Senators vote to cut UT diversity, boost agriculture

The Senate Education Committee voted Wednesday to strip the University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion of all but its federal funding and to transfer $8 million from the university’s administration into its agricultural extension service and rural outreach programs.

Further from the News-Sentinel:

The committee approved an amendment by its chairwoman, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, to the UT budget submitted by Gov. Bill Haslam that would have the effect of defunding the diversity office at UT Knoxville – the target of conservative ire since a pair of controversial web posts regarding gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive holiday parties. The panel’s action isn’t final: it will require concurrence by the full Senate and the House before it could go into effect.

Anthony Haynes, UT’s vice president for government relations and advocacy, said after the meeting that university officials “certainly understand the motivation behind the amendment.”

“We’re hopeful that we can work it out before we pass the final budget in April,” Haynes said.

The amendment’s approval followed an earlier 2½-hour hearing by the House education committees on diversity issues at UT and the Tennessee Board of Regents system.

As passed, the amendment:

Transfers $5 million from the funds appropriated to UT Knoxville to the UT Agricultural Extension Service for its programs and services. That’s the amount that the office of diversity and inclusion currently receives annually: $1.3 million on compliance and reporting activities dealing with federal law, and $3.7 million for campus diversity programming.

Declares that “only federal funds shall be expended to support the office of diversity and inclusion” at UT Knoxville.

Transfers $3 million from funds appropriated for administration and salaries on the Knoxville campus to UT Chattanooga and UT Martin (at $1.5 million each) “for the sole purpose of rural outreach programs.”

Gresham owns a cattle farm in Fayette County and faces a re-election challenge in this year’s Republican primary by Savannah Mayor Bob Shutt, who has said he’s running to bring more rural development to the eight-county 26th Senate District.