Updated Aug. 24, 2012 with comments and committee resignation letter from Sen. Jim Summerville.
State Sen. Jim Summerville doesn’t “give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks.”
At least that’s what he told Memphis state Rep. Barbara Cooper via email Wednesday in response to her report from the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators criticising the probe of a state university for changing students’ grades.
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham stripped Summerville of his chairmanship on the Higher Education Subcommittee Thursday, saying she is “very disappointed in the unfortunate choice of words and tone” of Summerville, R-Dickson.
“There is a standard of courtesy that must be observed by members of the General Assembly, and this went beyond what is acceptable,” she said in a statement.
“Which part wasn’t clear? The matter speaks for itself,” he told reporters in his office Friday morning.
“Maybe I could have used a more artful term, like a rodent’s posterior.”
Early this month, the Senate Higher Education Sub-Committee investigated allegations that Tennessee State University school officials changed “incomplete” grades to letter grades for 270 introductory math students without instructors’ permission.
The committee met Aug. 13, and the Tennessee Board of Regents told lawmakers the historically black university did nothing wrong other than poorly communicate with faculty members.
Cooper’s report, on behalf of the 18-member Black Caucus, questioned why the hearing was called in the first place, calling it “much to do about nothing.”
“It seems that the complainants, very competent, high-level experts in their field of educational attainment should honor the greatness of TSU and think about harm to the students first, respect leadership and follow the rules, regulations and guidelines,” reads the report.
“When ‘I Gotcha’ tactics are used, the administration, instructors, staff, students and alumni are affected, greatly diminishing the reputation of TSU,” the report concluded.
Summerville, who is white, responded with one line from his personal email account, firstname.lastname@example.org: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks.”
Leading House Democrats are demanding Summerville apologize to Cooper and the Black Caucus, saying they are “deeply concerned by the rhetoric.”
“His words show a complete lack of respect and decorum for not only Representative Barbara Cooper, but the entire Tennessee Legislative Black Caucus. There is no place in the General Assembly and the public discourse for this kind of foul and offensive remark,” read the joint statement from House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, and Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory.
The first-term Republican attracted media attention this summer when he was served with a criminal summons and cited with a misdemeanor for letting his dogs run loose in his Dickson neighborhood. At some point in the dispute Summerville reportedly put up a sign – “You’ve been warned,” it read in part – which his neighbors viewed as threatening. Summerville was found not guilty for violating the state’s dogs-at-large law Thursday, according to the Tennessean.