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First "Spirit of Geier" Award goes to Tennessee

January 7, 2003

At the Tennessee Board of Regents meeting on Dec. 13, Rita Sanders Geier presented the first "Spirit of Geier" award, intended to recognize a TBR institution or individual who has shown exceptional commitment to implementing the intent of the Geier Consent Decree.

In presenting the award, Geier, who was the original plaintiff in the Geier litigation initiated in 1968, said, "Tennessee Tech was chosen to receive this award based on the energetic and persistent planning and implementation of its Geier programs. In the summer of 2001, TTU took the initiative and piloted its own pre-university program for minority high school students, which was used as a model for the first official Geier summer program this year. TTU was again at the forefront in engaging a Geier visiting professor, Dr. Frank Underdown, professor of physics and astronomy, visiting from Michigan Technological University.

"TTU initiated an ambitious plan to address a deficiency noted in the Consent Decree, namely, the low number of black graduate students enrolled, and quickly put a program in place that resulted in doubling the number of black graduate students in a one-year time frame.

"President Bob Bell, faculty, staff and students at Tennessee Tech have embraced the spirit of Geier wholeheartedly by adopting an atmosphere of opportunity as opposed to compliance. The university, the TBR system and the state of Tennessee will benefit from their efforts for years to come."

Accepting the award on behalf of Tennessee Tech was TTU President Bob Bell, accompanied by Dr. Francis Otuonye, associate vice president of research and graduate studies; Dr. Leo McGee, associate vice president of academic affairs; Janie Robbins, area Coordinator of interdisciplinary studies and extended education; Marc Burnett, vice president of student affairs; and Rebecca Tolbert, associate vice president for academic affairs and enrollment management. In accepting the award, Dr. Bell said, "We're honored to be recognized by Mrs. Geier and the TBR for our efforts.

"Putting these programs together was easy because it was the right thing to do. I'm proud of the commitment and effort put forth across our campus."

The "Spirit of Geier" award was created by Tom Fuhrman, a highly recognized glass blower from Woodbury, Tenn., whose work is in the fountain court at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, as well as other museums and public spaces. Fuhrman's design was selected based on the insightful approach he took when creating the design.

"The piece represents an abstraction of the pillars contained within the
Tennessee Board of Regents logo," Fuhrman explained. "One pillar has white glass; the other has black glass. The black glass is smaller to represent the historically smaller presence of blacks within the system. Each pillar, however, supports the same weight.

"Sitting on balls, the pillars are really not stable - a fragile balance. They come together at the top in a crystal sphere that picks up all colors."

Agreement by all plaintiffs to the Geier Consent Decree was achieved in 2000 under the mediation efforts of Carlos Gonzáles who is now monitoring the compliance of all parties. If all aspects of the Consent Decree are carried out to the satisfaction of the federal court, Tennessee's system of higher education could be declared unitary in 2005, bringing an end to litigation that began in 1968.