Tag Archives: diversity

Bill advances to cut diversity, buy ‘In God We Trust’ decals

A Tennessee House panel voted Tuesday to strip $100,000 from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and instead direct the money for printing decals stating “In God We Trust” for placement on police cars, reports the Times-Free Press.

Members of the Education Administration and Planning Committee approved the bill, sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Gray.

The bill also bars the university from using funds to promote the annual “Sex Week” observance or any “gender neutral pronoun” policy. Nor could funds be used to “promote or inhibit” celebrations of religious holidays.

…House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, told colleagues they were overreaching by moving to strip funds for non-education purposes.

“Is that what we’re going to do?” he asked. “We’re going to print some decals. Certainly we have the right, certainly we have the power. But sometimes power is best wielded when it’s not. These guys [UT] screwed up but we cannot have a knee-jerk reaction to this.”

Van Huss said his bill, which has been amended, is “definitely not a knee-jerk reaction. These are taxpayer funds. These are my constituents’ dollars going to fund this department.”

…Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, defended Van Huss’ bill and attacked suggestions that one official put on a UT website about use of non-gender-specific pronouns like “ze” and “hir.”

“That’s insanity,” Womick said. “That’s the English language. Just because someone had a sex change you’re not going to hurt their feelings.”

Apparently alluding to Sex Week, Womick said, “If you want to fornicate, go do it privately, not on tax dollars. That offends me.”

UPDATE/NOTE: In the Senate, sponsoring Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, has taken the bill “off notice” — generally a signal that he’s not going to pursue a vote on it. See The Tennessean account, HERE.

Bill gives UT diversity money to ‘In God We Trust’ decals

As amended in a House subcommittee Tuesday, $100,000 would be taken from the University of Tennessee’s funding for diversity each year and spent and spent to provide decals bearing the national motto “In God We Trust” for law enforcement vehicles.

Further from the News Sentinel:

House Bill 2248 as originally filed by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Johnson City, would strip all state funding from UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. But Van Huss entered the House Education Subcommittee on Tuesday afternoon with an amendment.

…The amendment would also prohibit UT from using any state funds “to promote the use of gender-neutral pronouns, Sex Week or to promote or demote a religious holiday.” The committee approved the amendment and moments later, the bill, on an unrecorded group voice vote.

Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, asked Van Huss whether he would be willing to accept an amendment later, in the full House Education Committee, that would allow UT to keep the $100,000 a year and use it to recruit students from six Tennessee counties with no students currently enrolled through UT’s various diversity efforts — including minority students, veterans and students who are the first in their families to attend college. Van Huss said he would be willing to discuss such an amendment with Smith before the bill reaches the full committee next week.

But he declined a suggestion by Smith, the chairman of the Knox County legislation delegation, to hold off and give UT time to work out its controversies internally under a separate bill already approved by the House to restructure the UT administration.

Smith said that bill makes reporting lines clearer in the UT campus and system administration and makes clearer the responsibilities of the UT board of trustees.

…The Senate Education Committee on March 2 recommended stripping $8 million from the UT budget for diversity and inclusion operations and reroute it to agricultural extension and other rural outreach programs. That proposal still must be considered by the Senate Finance Committee.

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.

Anti-outsourcing, pro-diversity rally draws 300 at UTK

Around 300 people attended a rally Friday in support of the University of Tennessee, which organizers say is “under attack” from a governor who wants more privatization and a legislature that opposes diversity efforts, reports the News Sentinel.

“Our governor and our legislators show little respect for our public institutions, for the people of Tennessee and for the democracy that our state and our country promises us,” said Melanie Barron, a graduate assistant in geography and member of the UT Diversity Matters coalition. “In the coming months, as these attacks on our university intensify, let us stand together.”

The coalition co-sponsored the rally, along with United Campus Workers, UT’s Faculty Senate and the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Attendees’ posters bore messages on privatization (“Tennessee is not for sale!” “Make us a Tennessee Promise: Keep Our Jobs Here”), living wages and racial and gender diversity (“Diversity Cuts Hurt Us All,” “Martin’s Dream is Forever”).

But their chants, led by UCW representative Cassie Waters, were in unison: “When our university is under attack, what do we do? Stand up! Fight back!”

Volunteers in a “phone zone” held up signs bearing contact information for legislators who have recently filed bills urging cuts to diversity and sustainability programs and funding at UT.

Waters urged attendees to call the legislators and Gov. Bill Haslam, who has proposed to outsource maintenance and management of state-owned buildings, including at the university, that’s now done by state employees. The plan would cost those workers their jobs and benefits, Waters said.

‘Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act’

News release from Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville
Representative Martin Daniel (R-18th District) has filed a bill that would confirm the First Amendment right of students enrolled in Tennessee institutions of higher education.

House Bill 2063, entitled “The Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act,” would require that institutions of higher education adopt a policy on speech and expression that would confirm students’ freedom of speech as a fundamental right, guarantee them the broadest latitude to speak about any issue that presents itself, and allow students to openly and vigorously discuss ideas that other members of the institution’s community might oppose. Furthermore, the Act would prohibit higher education institutions from discouraging any type of lawful speech or expressive activity, establishing speech “safe zones,” or shielding individuals from ideas and opinions that they might find disagreeable, unwelcome or offensive.

“In Tennessee, the First Amendment does not stop at the campus gate,” said Representative Daniel. “This Bill would confirm the nearly forgotten concept of free speech. We can’t allow politically correct policies to smother free speech. Courtesy and sensitivity, while encouraged, can never trump basic constitutional rights. Tennessee higher education should prepare our students for the real world, and encouraging expression of all sorts of viewpoints is essential to that objective.”

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.
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Black Caucus backs UT diversity funding

News release from Black Caucus of State Legislators
NASHVILLE- The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators is condemning an “attack” on diversity programs in higher education by Republican lawmakers.

Some conservative lawmakers have vowed to review funding for college diversity programming across the state after two recent controversies at the University of Tennessee. The Knoxville University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion recently posted on the campus website suggestions about gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive holiday celebrations that have been criticized by conservatives.

In the wake of those posts, later removed, some Republican lawmakers have called for the General Assembly to de-fund the office and to review other diversity programs across the state.

Chairwoman Brenda Gilmore of Nashville says the Black Caucus “strongly opposes these actions and any actions to reduce diversity efforts in Tennessee”.

Gilmore says the offices are needed to combat decades of discrimination in the state’s colleges and universities and said the caucus is concerned about the “hidden messages that Republican lawmakers are trying to send.

The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators is going on to the record as standing against these actions and will fight any efforts to reduce state funding to these programs.”
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A sample of diversity in recent TN political writing

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, on problems with the Achievement School District’s converting public schools into charter schools, in a Commercial Appeal op-ed:

It is no secret that education is the new business of choice by many businesspeople, and it appears that politicians are the facilitators for these profiteers and so-called saviors of America’s mostly minority and impoverished children.

While I do not have an issue with providing quality education for our children, I do have a major issue when it is driven by money versus the true crusade for better educational opportunities.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, promoting his successful effort to replace the federal No Child Left Behind Act in an op-ed piece as it appeared in the Times-Free Press.

Last year, campaigning for re-election, I said to Tennessee voters, “Give us a Republican majority in the United States Senate and we’ll repeal the federal Common Core mandate and reverse the trend toward a national school board.”

This week, Congress did just that and President Barack Obama signed it. The Wall Street Journal called our legislation fixing the 2001 No Child Left Behind law “the largest devolution of federal control to states in a quarter of a century.”

(Note: Maybe more interesting is Politico’s look at the inside Washington baseball involved in Alexander’s efforts.)

Robert Houk’s opening line in his latest column:

The Tennessee General Assembly officially returns to work in Nashville next month. God help us all.

Frank Cagle’s closing line in a column on the University of Tennessee’s lack of “institutional control,” as illustrated by the latest diversity kerfuffle:

A word of advice for the trustees: You can govern the university and exert institutional control, or the Legislature will do it for you.

Family Action Council of Tennessee’s David Fowler opines that the Legislature should, indeed, step in to stop the UT diversity doings:

To avoid student protests if UT’s Inclusion police are fired, UT is going to continue doing inane things that the public recoils at. After all, the Inclusion police have to do something if they’re going to get paid. They’ll come up with some more stuff like in the past. And UT officials will have to tromp down to the legislature every few months to apologize.

But that could stop if some legislative leaders would step in and do something to help them, such as telling Chancellor Cheek and the Inclusion police they can “voluntarily” resign or have their administration budget cut in half.

Excerpt from Mark Harmon’s satirical rewrite of the “Night Before Christmas” with the legislative uproar over UT diversity as a subject:

And then, in a twinkling, I saw on the tube
The braying and whining of each little rube.
As I shook my head and was turning around,
Down the chimney Ron Ramsey came with a bound.

He was tossing red meat, from all he’d been hearing.
He must act quickly, an election is nearing.
A bundle of threats he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a meddler all set to attack.

His eyes, how they squinted! His winces, so scary!
His stooges had joined him, like Moe, Curly, Larry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up in a pucker
As he played on the fears of each fawning sucker.

He was no jolly elf, nor one like Will Ferrell
And he would never don any gay apparel.
A gleam in his eye and a frown on his head
Soon gave me to know I had so much to dread.

The governor’s leash he held tightly you see,
Reminding all how he killed Insure Tennessee.
With no plans at all, his excuses were smelly,
His claims as shaky as a bowlful of jelly.

Ramsey: “Heads need to roll” in UT diversity flap — one in particular

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said today that “heads need to roll” at the University of Tennessee following a Web post that cautioned against Christian-oriented holiday activities — but not that of UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek; apparently only that of Rickey Hall, who heads the UT Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Jeff Woods has lenthy quotes from the Ramsey commentary in a Friday meeting with media:

Ramsey said Chancellor Jimmy Cheek can keep his job because he claims to have been in the dark on the whole thing, but Ramsey said he’s told Cheek that Hall has got to go.

“Let’s think this through logically,” Ramsey said. “You have an office of diversity and inclusion where the person running it makes the taxpayers pay him $175,000 a year, basically the same salary as the governor, to think up this crap. That’s all I can possibly say. Their policy is not about inclusion. It’s just the opposite. It stifles freedom of speech. It stifles freedom of religion and it’s amazing to me that something like this needs to be put in writing on some kind of official website.”

Ramsey said “this is not the right-wing radicals. This is not the tea party people that are out here saying this is crazy.” No, he said, ordinary people everywhere across the state are angry about this and raging about it even as they “go to Hardee’s to pick up their morning biscuit.”

…Once Hall departs, Ramsey said, it’ll be time for the legislature to chop the university’s funding for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

“I’m for diversity. I’m for inclusion. This is exactly the opposite of that. What are they doing with $5 million? It needs to be examined closely to see if the same thing can’t be done for $1 million.”

…”Rickey Hall, who I wouldn’t know if he walked in here … it galls taxpayers that this is a taxpayer-funded position. He gets paid $175,000 a year apparently to do nothing but to sit around and think up stuff like this. It galls people that this is happening. I think that position needs to go.”

Note: See also The Tennessean HERE and The Commercial Appeal, HERE.

Excerpt from the latter:

UT Knoxville spokeswoman Karen Ann Simsen said today, “The Lieutenant Governor and Chancellor Cheek spoke earlier in the week and he is aware of his position.”

…UT has said the current year’s budget for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, with three staffers, is $436,722. The $5 million figure cited by Ramsey and other critics of UT’s diversity efforts is for the entire UT statewide system and includes estimates for all diversity-related expenditures, including federal requirements on gender equity and efforts for recruitment and enrollment. Using UT’s overall revenue model of about 63 percent tuition and fees and 31 percent state appropriations, about $135,000 of the $436,722 directly spent by Hall’s office would be funded from state appropriations, according to UT officials.

Haslam backs Jimmy Cheek

Gov. Bill Haslam has voiced support for the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus chancellor, Jimmy Cheek, who is facing resignation demands from some GOP state lawmakers, according to TNReport.

“My view is that you judge somebody on their entire body of work, and if you look at what Chancellor Cheek has done at UT, his entire body of work is impressive,” Haslam told reporters following a ribbon-cutting for a new Under Armor distribution center in Mt. Juliet.

Note: The quote is part of a general roundup on UT diversity stuff, HERE.