A Diversity Officer’s Dismissal of Rape Charges Exposes Racial Bias and Conflict of Interest at UTK

In January 2024, Minding the Campus reported that the University of Illinois Springfield firmly ditched its “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) audit, which found that the university “fail[ed] to adequately address a rape case” involving one of its recruiters. Colleagues have contacted us about a similar situation at the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK), the flagship public university in Tennessee. According to USA Today, sexual assault charges against football players were dismissed by UTK’s Katrice Jones Morgan, who is acting as an administrative judge.

Newspaper report of alleged sexual assaults at UTK

Katrice Morgan was appointed director of diversity and inclusion at UTK’s law school after previously serving as assistant district attorney for Knox County, Tennessee. She is an alumna of UTK and met her husband, Orlando Rico Morgan, there—he had been a football star at Ripley High School near Memphis.

Morgan’s UTK office is decorated with a football poster and a photo of her son wearing a football uniform. Her blazer is adorned with a lapel pin from her Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) social club. It was within this football shrine—her judge’s chambers—that she dismissed sexual assault charges against UTK football players that were filed by Jane Doe I – Jane Doe VII.

Katrice Jones Morgan’s UTK office & AKA jewelry

The complainants later sued the university under Title IX, citing Morgan’s poor case handling. According to reports, Morgan ruled “the university neither placed a disciplinary hold on [accused] record nor imposed an interim suspension to postpone the awarding of his degree and thereby preserve jurisdiction.” Eventually, UTK settled for $2.48 million in federal court. After the settlement, the university promoted Katrice Morgan to a newly-created position, Associate Vice Chancellor and Executive Director for the Office of Equity and Diversity. The UTK law school, together with Knoxville’s AKA social club, threw her a party.

UTK’s AKA party for Katrice Morgan — left, dancing with hand raised

Unbeknownst to the Jane Doe complainants, Katrice Morgan was a member of—and president of—Knoxville’s all-black AKA social club when she heard their cases. However, under Tennessee’s Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 3.6, “A judge shall not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race.”

Katrice Morgan’s AKA website profile

In 2011, the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability addressed the question of whether Tennessee judge George C. Paine committed misconduct by holding membership in “Belle Meade,” a 110-year-old social club in Nashville (664 F.3d 332, In re Complaint of Judicial Misconduct). The panel concluded that Belle Meade engaged in invidious discrimination against women and African Americans by admitting only white men, and therefore, Judge Paine’s membership in Belle Meade was disallowed.

The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (TBPR) opened an investigation into Morgan (file number 55544-2-SC), including a 100-page report.

The report describes AKA as founded “by and for black women.” The report includes a photo of Morgan making the AKA pinkie sign at her UTK AKA party, just as she demonstrated in a photo on her AKA website.

Morgan flashing club’s pinkie sign at UTK AKA events

The report includes redacted lyrics to songs played at the party, shown in the screenshot below:

Lyrics of one of the songs performed by DJ at Morgan’s UTK AKA party

Coincidentally, the federal lawsuit Jane Doe v University of Tennessee (Case 3:16-cv-00199, U.S. District Court, M.D. Tenn.) specifically cited the rap music culture at UTK. The university’s athletic program had adopted a rap song by “Lil’ Jon” as its official football anthem. According to the lawsuit, Lil’ Jon’s work was “possibly the most sexist song promoting sexual assault, battery and rape—ever. … Lil’ Jon aggressively shouts the song’s chorus for the women to ‘Shut the f**k up.’”

The 100-page report disclosed that Morgan did not file an oath with the Secretary of State, although such an oath is required of every judge before entering upon the duties as a judge. In addition, Tennessee has no record of Morgan’s participation in the training program required to serve as an administrative judge, yet she signed her name as though she held that position.

When the Knox County chief magistrate learned that Morgan had not participated in the required program of training, had not taken the oath of office, and had presided over a club that discriminates based on race while posing as a judge, he announced that he was “friends with” Morgan and that none of her former co-workers in the district attorney’s office would prosecute her.

The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility closed its investigation into her without issuing a reprimand.

It is noteworthy that UTK’s law school dean, Melanie Wilson, was fully aware of Morgan’s conflict of interests arising from the all-black social club—Morgan listed it on her annual disclosure forms. But Dean Wilson repeatedly approved of Dean Morgan’s conflict.

 Morgan’s conflict of interest form, approved by UTK Law School

It is indeed ironic that a diversity officer presided over a social club that admits only black women—the very opposite of “diversity.” It is also ironic that Judge Morgan reviewed sexual assault charges against black football players when she had consummated an amorous relationship with a black football player. Ironically, a flagship public law school that trains future lawyers and judges concealed the disqualifying conflict of a judge who garnered national media attention.

But perhaps the most significant takeaway is that the Jane Doe complainants wrongly believed in a justice system that would review their complaints promptly via a lawful and impartial judge. Instead, the adjudicative process was outsourced to a social club whose president is protected from prosecution for impersonating a judge.

The Jane Does never stood a chance.

Editor’s Note: The images provided in this article come from public records submitted to the authors at their request. 

Photo by sframe — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 37595432


  • Jane Doe 10 and Jane Doe 11

    Jane Doe 10 and Jane Doe 11 were subjected to assault, but refrained from filing charges out of fear of retaliation. They work in the Nashville area as advocates for access to due process. Legal professionals with an interest in civil rights can use the email address accessToProcess@proton.me to contact them.

3 thoughts on “A Diversity Officer’s Dismissal of Rape Charges Exposes Racial Bias and Conflict of Interest at UTK

  1. From the “First Amended Complaint” (Case 3:16-cv-00199):

    Four Plaintiffs (Does II, IV, VI and VII) were raped by five UT football players. One Plaintiff (Doe I) was raped by a UT basketball player and one Plaintiff (Doe III) raped by a non-athlete UT student where the underage victim became intoxicated with alcohol provided by football players at a party at Vol Hall.

    The “Memorandum” noted UTK’s practice of:

    housing female freshman students in a residence hall called Volunteer Hall alongside upper class male athletes

    It is surprising that someone’s first take is that the victims were graduates in law school, having sex with undergraduate football players in order to win a settlement. It is also surprising that someone’s first take is that the plaintiffs did not pursue criminal charges. Some of them did; however, a Knoxville jury acquitted the local UT Knoxville football heroes.

    It was clear that their only available remedy was a civil one.

    1. I have been involved in student judicial proceeding for 35 years — more if you include my undergrad service on hearing boards — and while I routinely call them Kangaroo Korts, I have never seen anything as convoluted as this appears to be.

      First and foremost, exactly who is Ms. Morgan’s current employer? All the article says is (a) “sexual assault charges against football players were dismissed by UTK’s Katrice Jones Morgan, who is acting as an administrative judge” and (b) “Katrice Morgan was appointed director of diversity and inclusion at UTK’s law school.”

      That’s all I know because that’s all the author told me. So let’s look at the construction of the language — the possessive (‘s) means that Morgan belongs to UTK much as “Suzie’s car” means that the car belongs to Suzie. When used with a person, the possessive usually means that the person is an employee and acting on behalf of (in this case) UTK. Add on the statement that she was appointed to a position at the law school and absent anything else one can assume that she still is appointed as such. One article says she’s been there since 2007 while if I believe the lawsuit was filed in 2016.

      Now three logical guesses from my experience in the field are that (a) the “director of diversity and inclusion” could also be the chief conduct officer, (b) the law school would have a separate conduct bureaucracy because law schools and the ABA insist on it, and (c) victims filing reports with the law school’s conduct officer would inherently be law students. This is not illogical…

      So who was Ms. Morgan’s employer at the time of her making the decisions she did — what grant of authority permitted her to make them?

      And if it wasn’t UTK, how the hell did she get the authority to do it?!? I’ve never heard of student conduct code proceedings being heard by anyone other than a university bureaucrat, or any state’s administrative procedures act being in any way relevant to them. Does Tennessee require it’s universities to follow the same administrative procedures — with the same (purportedly) disinterested hearing officers — that other state agencies are required to?

      I’ve never heard of such a thing, I can’t imagine that the faculty would tolerate such ceding of authority, but it would actually be a good thing in general if this was done. (But it would have been helpful for the author to mention that, if, in fact, it was the case.)

      And then there’s FERPA and I can’t imagine how all of this confidential stuff made it into the newspapers without major FERPA violations. Maybe Region 6 OCR has a more relaxed view toward this, but still….

      Now as to the possibility of a 22-year-old law student getting raped — yes, it happens and go talk to someone who deals with victims if you don’t believe me. (Or watch the movie “Legally Blonde.”) And for the reasons I stated above, if Morgan was working for the Law Dean’s Office, it stands to reason that the students approaching her as victims would have been law students — with an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite for admission.

      “…where the underage victim became intoxicated…”
      This is a big problem and why I both personally and professionally oppose the 21-year-old drinking age. It’s not just that alcohol is inevitably involved in rapes but the secrecy of the illegal consumption segregates the victim from those who would come to her assistance. That’s what the Amethyst Initiative is about — it is better to have undergrads drinking with some adult supervision around to reign things in than to have them binge drinking in secret.

      Sure rape is a crime — so’s auto theft and I have yet to meet a young lady who leaves her car unlocked with the keys in the ignition…

      “housing female freshman students in a residence hall called Volunteer Hall alongside upper class male athletes”

      If it was ONLY female freshmen and ONLY upper class male upperclassmen, you’d have a point, but I like to think that no bureaucrat would be that stupid. And there are three philosophies that govern student housing:

      1: Have a mix of freshmen and upperclassmen because the older students will moderate the behavior of the younger ones. Not only will you have a lower critical mass (i.e. not every room with freshmen) but the older students will exercise peer pressure to reduce risky behavior. A female upperclassman would tell the female freshman that she ought not do certain things, or go to certain parties…

      2: Segregate the freshmen — have freshman-only dorms. Amongst other things, this presumes that you can’t have freshman rapists — and that’s not true.

      3: Segregate by sex as well. If there are no men allowed in the building, there will be no rapes. It is the way that it was done in the 1950s (along with a 9PM curfew) but the female students didn’t like it.

      Feminists of an earlier age spoke about a “gilded cage” — they were protected but the protections were confining. Sure you can prevent freshmen women from living in a dorm with male athletes in it, but that also means that there won’t be female athletes there either and the consequences of that.

      But this whole thing still doesn’t make sense.

  2. “When the Knox County chief magistrate learned that Morgan had not participated in the required program of training, had not taken the oath of office, and had presided over a club that discriminates based on race while posing as a judge, he announced that he was “friends with” Morgan and that none of her former co-workers in the district attorney’s office would prosecute her.”

    While I am not quite sure how a college administrator becomes considered a state judge, nor how the district attorney comes to have regulatory authority over said university administrators, the protocol in general for conflicts of interest is to send it to another county where no one knows the parties involved.

    Or sometimes the State Attorney General’s office — in the distant capitol city — deals with it.

    At least in the Northeast, this is routinely done. On one occasion a bunch of (likely drunken) off-duty Sheriff’s Deputies made fools of themselves riding through town in the back of a pickup truck, so another county’s Sheriffs Department investigated it. Anything involving a judge is moved to another county where he doesn’t sit and hence no one knows him.

    What’s missing here is an explanation as to why the women couldn’t go the criminal prosecution route — if not via the campus police, perhaps via the state police or a direct visit to the local DA. It appears that they were law students as Morgan was a law school official and while I understand that it is difficult for rape victims to come forward, one would think that at least one (of eleven) law students would have a personal or professional network that could have put her in touch with some advocacy agency or something.
    They also all have undergrad degrees and know faculty & staff at their undergrad institutions — I’ve gotten questions (about other things) from former students then in law school.

    And if the DA wants to be a total schmuck, isn’t there the State Attorney General? And I’m not an attorney but I can see the US Attorney being interested if there is a pattern of the football team covering up crimes (and what else might they be covering up?). And my guess is that the NCAA wouldn’t exactly be pleased with this, either.

    My point is that I am inherently suspicious when someone immediately goes the route of the civil lawsuit — $2,480,000,00 is a nice chunk of change and the women may be entitled to it, but I am still inherently suspicious when the only thing they do is go for the money.

    Nor that it will actually change anything — my guess is that the university’s utility bills for heating, lighting, & air conditioning at the sports stadiums is more, and that they will write off the $2.48M as a cost of doing business — even if it isn’t paid for by the taxpayers.

    Call me cynical, but I’ve seen too much over the years…

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