February 6, 2012 – Knoxville, Tennessee — The Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) John J. Duncan, Jr. School of Law (LMU-DSOL) Black Law Student Association (BLSA) will welcome Rita Geier for its celebration of Black History Month on Wednesday, February 8, at 5 p.m. in LMU-DSOL’s Courtroom. Geier, the namesake behind the state of Tennessee’s Geier Consent Decree, will speak on professionalism and ethics.
Geier filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Board of Higher Education in 1968. At that time she was a 23-year-old faculty member at Tennessee State University (TSU) in Nashville. At the time of the lawsuit the facilities at TSU, a predominately African-American school, had been neglected, its curriculum had fallen behind and teachers’ salaries were inadequate. TSU was within the state university system and while TSU was declining, the state sought to expand the former University of Tennessee at Nashville, a predominately white school. Geier filed suit because she feared this move would further disadvantage TSU.
The initial impact of the lawsuit was felt on July 1, 1979, when the court ordered the merging of the former University of Tennessee at Nashville with TSU. Nevertheless, the suit was not fully resolved until 31 years later. The court-approved Geier Consent Decree of 2001 provided over $21 million to TSU and more than $41 million spread out to other state institutions. The total amount awarded was over $77 million. Although the Consent Decree was dismissed in 2006, its impact is still felt. More than 1,300 African-American students have benefited from Geier-funded scholarships and African-American enrollment at state institutions has increased each year.
At the University of Tennessee’s 2006 Fall Commencement, Geier spoke of her lawsuit. “What I did 38 years ago was not special or heroic, it was opportunistic. I was in the right place at the right time to do what needed to be done, and I did it. There was no lofty moralizing. It was simply the choice to do the right thing or to acquiesce to a status quo that was unjust,” she said.
Geier currently serves as associate to the chancellor of the University of Tennessee and a senior fellow with UT’s Baker Center for Public Policy. Her career also includes time served with the Social Security Administration, the Appalachian Regional Commission, U.S. Department of Justice, Legal Services Corporation and Fisk University.
The Lincoln Memorial University-Duncan School of Law (LMU-DSOL) is located in Knoxville’s Historic Old City Hall Building. LMU-DSOL is an integral part of LMU’s values-based learning community, and is dedicated to preparing the next generation of lawyers to provide sound legal service in the often underserved region of Appalachia and beyond. For more information about LMU-DSOL, call 1-800-325-0900, ext. 5303 or visit us online at www.lmunet.edu/law.