Tag Archives: diversity

DiPietro on diversity

From the News Sentinel:
University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro said the controversy about inclusive holiday parties on the Knoxville campus never rose to “the level of needing to think about accepting a resignation or termination.”

But he told reporters in Nashville the university apologized for the post on the Office for Diversity and Inclusion’s website.

“We felt that moving forward it would be best to clear the air and say we understand some people were offended,” DiPietro said, noting he thought the post could be improved, because using “hot-button items” like Christmas and dreidels — along with an earlier post recommending gender-neutral pronouns for transgender students — wasn’t needed to make the point.

DiPietro said he worked with Chancellor Jimmy Cheek for the past three days on a response and was at a state Senate higher education subcommittee on Tuesday. But lawmakers didn’t ask DiPietro about the holiday party controversy.

The university president also said he was sorry to see the latest calls from lawmakers for defunding the Officer for Diversity and Inclusion at UT.

“Great universities have the ability to provide the kind of educational opportunity that is beyond the classroom that makes people more multiculturally competent, and it makes our product out of school much more attractive in the work force,” he said.

DiPietro said UT leaders are committed to advancing diversity, but then seem “to shoot ourselves in the foot with either pronouns or holiday directives that upset many people.”

He said part of the reason is because of people’s different views, but there needs to be calm understanding and conversation.

“So the reality is we thought it was best to do what we’ve done and the chancellor felt that way too,” DiPietro said. “Everybody is important and in trying to be inclusive, we’ve tried to say that. It’s the approach that gets us into trouble.”

UT diversity website gets a new overseer

The author of the University of Tennessee’s holiday party guidelines that sparked a national controversy accusing the school of a “war on Christmas” won’t be writing such suggestions anymore, reports the News Sentinel.

Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Rickey Hall “has been counseled,” UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said in a news release. The website for Hall’s office will now be overseen by Vice Chancellor for Communications Margie Nichols — not by Hall or any of his staff— and the original advisory, posted online, has been taken down.

Hall will remain vice chancellor, and his role and salary will not change, Nichols said. She said her office manages several other administrators’ websites, including Provost Susan Martin and Cheek.

“As an education institution, it’s our job to listen and learn,” Cheek said. “We are sorry that we did not communicate very well. We’ve learned a lesson from this.”

Rep. Van Huss plans defund diversity bill

State Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, says he’s drafting legislation to defund the University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, according to the News Sentinel.

That’s in accord with a resolution approved by the Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee last weekend. (Note: Previous post HERE.) Van Huss says he’s been planning a lot longer than that

“My office began working on drafts of this legislation when the Office of Diversity proposed using gender-neutral pronouns earlier this summer,” he said in a statement. “We had been trying to draft something that would leave the office in place, but bring more oversight. However, after this latest action, it is clear that this taxpayer-funded department in no way reflects the values of Tennesseans.”

Van Huss also pointed to brouhahas over recommendations on using gender-neutral pronouns — such as “xe” “xym” and “xyr” — and the long-lamented Sex Week as reasons to worry about how the university is spending its money.

“What else has the Office of Diversity been doing with our tax dollars?” he said. “They are not celebrating diversity, they are wiping it out. It is the office of Political Correctness. Sadly, being a student with strong Judeo-Christian values, who wants to observe traditional celebrations, is no longer politically correct at UT.”

Meanwhile on Monday, clergy representing Episcopal-Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist campus ministries, signed an open letter to legislators.

In it, they said they are “disappointed and frustrated by the erroneous claims that diversity at the University of Tennessee, particularly religious diversity, poses any threat to the religious freedoms of students, faculty and staff.”

Lawmaker questions UT diversity spending

A Knoxville legislator is questioning the University of Tennessee’s annual spending of more than $4.7 million on salary and benefits for employees involved in diversity programs, contending both the total and some individual salaries are excessive and should be reviewed with an eye toward cuts.

“If we could cut that $4.7 million by $1.5 million a year, that would be $15 million over 10 years,” said Daniel, R-Knoxville. “That would be saving a lot of tuition dollars and a lot of taxpayer dollars” for other university needs.

Margie Nichols, UT vice chancellor for communications, said the diversity efforts are largely mandated by federal law and cover a wide array of programs benefiting women and minorities. UT officials believe the expenditures are warranted and are open to a review, she said.

The $4.7 million total may overstate expenditures because it includes gross salaries of staff who have duties other than diversity matters. Only about $2.55 million in salary and benefits is directly attributed to diversity activities, though Daniel says all figures may understate actual spending because it does not include related employee travel and other expenses.
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On Haslam’s Hiring of Departed Davis, Diversity and Lawsuits

The Tennessean continues its reporting on the troubled Department of Labor and Workforce Development with a trio of Sunday stories, led by Chas Sisk’s review of the recruiting of now-departed commissioner Karla Davis and questions about her credentials.
How Davis, a little-known nonprofit administrator, could be named to lead a major state agency says much about how Gov. Bill Haslam has structured his administration. His twin emphases — bringing in fresh blood and building a diverse cabinet — have helped him shake up state government.
But in a couple of cases, the governor has put people in charge who critics say lacked the experience or skills to run state departments. Davis, who resigned in March, citing family reasons, left shortly before the release of a scathing audit of her department. In addition, the department is facing at least three wrongful-termination lawsuits, including two that allege racial discrimination.
Race and gender appear to have been factors in Davis’ hiring. But she also convinced the governor himself that she was the right person for the job, shining in interviews and enduring a lengthy vetting process.
“Karla was bright,” Haslam said, “and she had been working with enough folks in situations like the people our Labor and Workforce Development Department serves that I thought she could add some value.”
…Tom Ingram, the head of Haslam’s transition team, said the governor was looking to assemble a diverse group for his administration but added Davis had to clear several rounds of interviews, including one with Haslam directly.
“She was highly recommended or she wouldn’t have been in it,” Ingram said. “Did she meet our diversity criteria? Absolutely. Was that the reason that she was appointed? Not unless we thought she was qualified.”
…While not disputing the criticisms of Davis and O’Day, Haslam defended how he had assembled his cabinet.
“We have 23 commissioners, and of those, 18 or 19 are from outside state government,” he said. “We’ve had some commissioners that were incredibly successful.”
But the governor added that the task of naming senior leaders was harder than many might think. He said there is little time for an incoming governor to find the right people for every position, contrasting it to the deliberate way in which people are chosen by private businesses.
“You basically have 30 really critical positions to fill and you have a very tight window to do that,” he said. “If I’m hiring somebody for a business, I know what that existing department that I’m hiring them to run is like. … You don’t have that advantage when you’re coming into state government.”

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One sidebar focuses on lawsuits claiming race discrimination during Davis’ tenure:
Filed by two former employees, one suit in local court and another in federal court allege that leaders in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development forced out employees based on race — that white staffers were replaced by blacks.
The complaints, which cite the labor department and former Commissioner Karla Davis, stem from the two years Davis ran the agency. Davis, along with Deputy Commissioner Alisa Malone and former Assistant Administrator Turner Nashe, resigned in March, days before a stinging audit exposed the department’s mismanagement of millions of dollars
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The other sidebar begins:
If you’re unemployed in Tennessee, you are less likely than most jobless in other states to get a benefit check. And if you do get one, it will be for less money, according to federal data.
In the past year, Tennessee’s average weekly unemployment check paid $235 — sixth-lowest in the nation — and just 17 percent of the state’s unemployed actually got benefits, ranking fourth.

Great Hearts Charter School Gives Up on Nashville (for now)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An Arizona-based charter school company says it won’t try to place schools in Tennessee until the state creates a more impartial charter school approval process.
The statement came from Great Hearts Academies on Wednesday after the Metro Nashville school board denied the company’s application for a third time.
School board members said they were concerned that a Great Hearts Academy would draw from affluent white families, rather than bringing in students from other parts of the city to create a more diverse student body.
Great Hearts said it might reapply “when Tennessee’s laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers,” according to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/Q4UANe).

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Diversity and Sensitivity Training Suggested for TN Legislators

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Democratic leaders point to insulting comments made by two Republican lawmakers to the Legislature’s black caucus in calling for legislators to undergo diversity and sensitivity training.
State Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson has been criticized for an email he sent earlier this month to the chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators saying: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks.”
His Republican colleague, Stacey Campfield of Knoxville, has supported the comment and even called the black caucus a “segregationist organization” that should be ignored.
Three years ago, Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis held two diversity training sessions for legislative staffers following the revelation that a Tennessee legislative staffer sent a racist e-mail about President Barack Obama from her state computer.
About a year later, Deberry gave the same sessions to state Safety Department officers who provide Capitol Hill security after a state trooper accidentally sent an e-mail proclaiming white pride to 787 state employees.
Those attending the sessions spent at least five hours being coached to avoid discriminatory behavior unacceptable in the workplace. It was the same training Deberry’s marketing firm gave to some clients before he became a legislator.
Deberry, who is a member of the black caucus and a former chairman, said the recent comments reveal a culture of insensitivity that still exists at the Capitol and that maybe it’s time for lawmakers to go through some sessions.
“Statesmanship is the ability to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it,” said Deberry, adding that he would be willing to once again oversee the sessions.
“That’s what we have to do if we’re going to be successful in making good public policy and having good public image. We’ve got to … learn how to communicate better.”

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