University of Tennessee at Knoxville President Randy Boyd recently dropped his support for a Knoxville fundraiser for Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) after criticism from the university community.

Boyd, who became the university’s president in March 2020, was set to pay for breakfast at the fundraising event for Pody.

Boyd called Pody a friend and said he offered to pay for the breakfast of a small gathering as a private citizen. He said Pody mistook his offering to pay for breakfast as an agreement to host the event.

“I made a mistake by offering to pay for breakfast at an event for Sen. Mark Pody. I’ve learned a great deal from this situation & I apologize for the concern and confusion I have caused. It will not happen again,” Boyd said in a statement.

“Randy is a good guy. He’s a friend. Some of the people at the university felt it wouldn’t be right for him to be hosting or being with the fundraiser. I totally understand,” Pody said. “He’s a guy that reaches out to all sides and I’m pretty vocal from the stance that I have and that could be something that he’s not comfortable with because he definitely doesn’t agree with me on all the issues.”

University of Tennessee at Knoxville Student Body President Claire Donelan said the pushback from some university supporters stemmed from the university’s unfavorable past in regard to the LGBTQ+ community.

“While (Boyd) has withdrawn this financial support for the event because of media pressure, the damage has been done,” Donelan said. “Senator Pody’s reprehensible personal and legislative history should have alone been enough to keep President Boyd from offering to fund this event. His backpedaling, while recognized, appears disingenuous.”

Donelan said Boyd’s actions contradicted the university’s Strategic Vision to “develop and sustain a nurturing university culture where diversity and community are enduring sources of strength.”

Last year, The Princeton Review ranked the university as the No. 2 least LGBTQ+-friendly university in the nation.

Pody has sponsored several bills in the Tennessee Legislature in the last decade aimed at same-sex marriage, transgender bathrooms and other similar issues. He said he remains steadfast in his beliefs.

“I don’t try and take mediocre stances. I am who I am,” Pody said. “(Boyd) doesn’t always agree with every stand I take. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk and communicate and be friends.”

Boyd said he has met with campus groups and organizations, including the UTK Pride Center.

I want to ensure that I continue to address these concerns. I fully understand that I am held to a higher standard and must lead accordingly,” Boyd said. “Most important is that our students, faculty and staff understand that UT is an open and welcoming environment for all.”