Knox legislators want a UT diversity committee

News release via House Republican Caucus
(NASHVILLE) — This week, members of the Knox County Legislative Delegation, led by State Representative Eddie Smith (R–Knoxville), submitted letters to Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell requesting a special committee be appointed and convened to examine and hear testimony related to the activities of the University of Tennessee Office of Diversity and Inclusion along with related personnel.

In recent months, the UT Office of Diversity has come under scrutiny from across the state and nation. The office first made national news in August when it encouraged students to use so-called “gender neutral” pronouns like ‘ze’, ‘hir’, ‘hirs’, ‘xe’, ‘xem’, and ‘xyr’ so as to not offend those on campus who may no longer identify with the gender they were born with. In its release, the Office of Diversity said these pronouns are encouraged for use within the campus, while gender specific pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘she’ are strongly discouraged.

Following this event, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion again made national headlines in December after posting on the school’s website asking employees to ensure their “holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.” The post gave tips on how to avoid endorsing a specific religion or culture over Christmas break, including the recommendation not to participate in the popular gift-swap game of “Secret Santa”.

If granted by Ramsey and Harwell, the joint committee of the legislature would be composed of members of the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Administration and Planning Committee and would be convened as soon as possible. In addition, the Knox County Delegation has asked for permission to expand the scope of their investigation to include all Offices of Diversity for public higher education schools, which are funded through taxpayer dollars, in the State of Tennessee.

Also according to the official request, the investigation would include, but would not be limited to, the identity of persons and committees involved in diversity efforts, funding of and spending by these offices and persons, objectives of these offices, the practices and nature of activities by persons within these offices and colleges, resource allocation, and the actual productivity and efficiency of persons engaged in diversity activities.

“The people of Tennessee deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent, especially in situations like this,” Representative Smith stated.

Following the investigation, the joint committee would issue a written report to the full Senate and House of the 109th General Assembly no later than March 30, 2016. The report would include fact findings, conclusions, and recommendations for action.

Note: Further from the News Sentinel:

Smith’s office said eight of the delegation’s 10 members met in a private meeting, closed to the public, last week and all eight supported the request to look into the diversity office at UT and elsewhere.

Smith’s office said Knox County lawmakers who were present and voted to support the request for a special committee and investigation were Sens. Richard Briggs and Becky Duncan Massey, and Reps. Harry Brooks, Martin Daniel, Bill Dunn, Roger Kane, Zachary Daniel and Smith. Not present and not voting were Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville.

A spokeswoman for Harwell says the speaker will honor the request for a special committee, but gave no details.