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UT students protest school's development plan to demolish three buildings to expand business building

It seems like there is less and less space in East Tennessee, a problem that continues onto the steps of the University of Tennessee.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Many students, professors and faculty at the University of Tennessee have united and created a grassroots group advocating against the school's announcement that three buildings would be demolished to expand the business school.

The buildings that would be knocked down are currently homes to the school of social work, the history department, the office of disability service and several other kinds of departments.

On Thursday, the campus community held a town hall with administrators about the plan. It attracted a lot of attention.

David Stickler, a graduate student and organizer, said the group does not want their department to not be separated. 

"The important thing is that these departments stay together, that these programs have homes to work from that stay on campus," Stickler said. "We need to be accessible to students, we need to be able to work with one another." 

The need for space on campus plays a role in this issue. Administrators said the business school is growing and needs to expand. Students affected by the plans said they are not responsible for the business school's expansion, and should not lose their department homes because of it.

"There is a space crisis," said Roraig Finney, a graduate student and organizer. "But it's one that this university has created for itself."

He says the school has over-enrolled students, causing departments to be split up and relocated to other parts of campus. 

"These moves will directly undermine our ability to connect with one another and to remain accessible to our students," Strickler said. 

The school says the expansion comes to accommodate "significant growth" in the business school. They've seen a 42% jump in enrollment since 2018. 

Meanwhile, others students in other programs said feel they are overlooked.

"The biggest message it sends to us is that this university does not value the work that we do," Strickler said. "We have consistently been treated as an afterthought in their programming and in their planning."

In a statement from John Zomchick, the Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor, the school said it is continuing to invest in other programs. 

The statement said they are "committed to the success of each college and work directly with the college deans to support the outstanding work of our faculty."

But students were not pleased with the school's communication and decided to file an open records request. Their request for more specific information on the development plans is still being processed. 

"We want to develop effective solutions together on this. But also, don't think that the anger over this is going away," Finney said. 

The school says members from the University Space Committee routinely meet with department and unit leaders. They hope to learn more about the department's needs when it is moved to other buildings.

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