At the University of Tennessee? An update from The Chronicle of Higher Education.
What Lawmakers in One State Talk About When They Talk About Diversity
When Republican leaders in the Tennessee legislature passed a resolution in December declaring that the University of Tennessee at Knoxville had become a "national embarrassment" for its online posts promoting gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive holiday parties, university officials knew they would face a demanding legislative session this spring.
Conservative lawmakers saw the controversies as a sign that political correctness was running amok on the flagship campus. So Knoxville’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion has played a starring role in committee meetings and hearings since the session began, in January. Multiple Republican-backed bills, introduced over the past four months, have sought to strip the office of all or part of its funding.
Both the House and the Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would divert roughly $437,000 of the office’s budget into a scholarship fund for minority engineering students during the 2016-17 fiscal year. It would also ban the use of state money to encourage gender-neutral pronouns or to "promote or inhibit the celebration of religious holidays." Gov. Bill Haslam has not said whether he will sign it, and a spokeswoman said he would review the bill in its final form before taking any action.
One earlier proposal would have spent the $437,000 on placing "In God We Trust" decals on state law-enforcement vehicles. Another measure would have limited the Tennessee system’s diversity spending to $2.5 million, down from about $5 million, and banned all university employees who do not serve primarily in diversity-related roles from participating in those kinds of programs during work hours.
University of Tennessee officials have tried to frame the scrutiny in a positive light. Joseph A. DiPietro, the system’s president, and Jimmy G. Cheek, chancellor of the Knoxville campus, say the prolonged debate in the legislature has given them an opportunity to explain why diversity and inclusion are priorities. Still, the university and the legislature have clashed over a number of key questions surrounding the diversity office.