The House voted Monday night to strip the University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion of $5 million in state funding, leaving the bill’s fate to the Senate. At UT-Knoxville, student supporters plan “a class walk-out and rally” to protest the action.
The move is meant to shut down a program that drew attention last year for suggesting the use of gender neutral pronouns and for recommending Christmas parties be referred to as holiday celebrations.
Those were just the latest actions on the UT Knoxville campus that have irked conservatives in the Tennessee legislature, like Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville.
“There is diversity, but what this center does is it creates a sense of divisiveness,” Kane said Monday night, just before the chamber approved the funding change (Note: The vote: 66-22).
The House measure (HB2248) would take money for the diversity office and split it between scholarships for minority students and decals for police cruisers that say “In God We Trust.”
The state Senate is working on a separate plan to defund the diversity office. It, too, would put money into minority scholarships but not the “In God We Trust” stickers.
Tuesday’s “mass class exit” is a response to “continuing attacks on diversity” at UT by state lawmakers and “reluctance to take tangible, meaningful steps toward resolving issues with diversity and inclusion” by university administrators, according to the diversity coalition’s news release.
…In the state House session on Monday, representatives had a lengthy discussion about the bill. Several lawmakers criticized the UT Office for Diversity and Inclusion, saying the office wasn’t meeting goals and was not promoting inclusion by “excluding Christians” and using gender neutral pronouns.
Among those criticizing the office were Rep. Bill Dunn and Rep Roger Kane, both Knoxville Republicans. Kane was vocal during lawmakers’ joint education committee meeting with UT leaders in March.
“There is no lack of diversity at our universities,” Kane said and added that “somebody has to call the big pink elephant in the room and that’s what this bill is doing.”
However, others rallied in support of the office, saying diversity programs are the reason universities like UT are as diverse as they are now, and money shouldn’t be diverted from academic institutions.
Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, said the move would send the wrong message and harm the university. He urged his colleagues to” let the university trustees run the University of Tennessee” and allow students to become critical thinkers.
“I believe that we are reaching too far out,” he said and later added, “This type of censorship adds to the conflict.”
Several others spoke out in agreement with Armstrong, including Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, a civil-rights activist who said the discussion reminded her of 1916 or 1968 instead of 2016.