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KNOXVILLE — Much has changed since the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was founded in 1794. The nation’s priorities of prosperity and economic expansion have been overtaken by crises in the economy and social values. A conference at UT Knoxville will discuss the new role the university should play in today’s society.

Hosted by the Department of Sociology and the Center for the Study of Social Justice, the Conference on Social Justice and the University will be Friday, April 29 and Saturday, April 30 at the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy on the university campus.

“The real question among Tennesseans is what the University of Tennessee can do to help them think through increasing inequalities and other challenges of the future,” said Jon Shefner, head of the Department of Sociology. “We need to ask these questions and rethink the models for our economy and society. The conference serves as a forum for this.”

With faculty, student, staff, and community participants, the conference will begin an ongoing discussion of how social justice can inform the responsibilities of higher education. Topics discussed include economic crises and the future of public higher education, homelessness, climate change, and labor unions and higher education.

A complete schedule can be viewed here.

Keynote speaker Frances Fox Piven, distinguished professor of the City University of New York Graduate Center, will speak at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday. Piven is an expert in urban politics, voting rights, and the development of the welfare state and is one of the foremost political sociologists in the country. She has recently been thrust into the limelight after coming under fire by conservative television and radio host Glen Beck.

Other keynotes include Erik Olin Wright, professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, who will speak Friday night at 7 p.m. on “Envisioning Real Utopias,” and John Gaventa, from the Institute of Development Studies, who will speak Friday at 11:30 a.m. on “Co-constructing Democratic Knowledge for Social Justice.”

Other participants come from a variety of academic disciplines, including education, modern foreign languages and literature, law, philosophy, sociology and social work, in addition to various community workers.

The Social Justice and University Conference is cosponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of Research, Ready for the World, Hodges Library, the School of Information Sciences, the College of Law, the Global Studies Program, the Africana Studies Program, the Chancellors Honors Program, and the departments of English, Anthropology, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Modern Foreign Languages and Literature, Political Science and Geography.

For more information, visit

C O N T A C T:

Jon Shefner (865-974-7022,

Whitney Holmes (865-974-5460,