Tennessee Bill to Cut Diversity Office Becomes Law

May 23, 2016

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, on Friday announced that he would permit a bill to cut the entire $436,000 state appropriation for an office at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville that promotes diversity to become law. The bill also bars the use of state funds for an annual student event known as Sex Week (the event has long been produced without state funds) and bars the university from promoting the use of gender neutral pronouns. Many students and others have criticized the bill as a move against diversity and said that lawmakers distorted the work of the office. For example, the office did produce materials on the pronouns preferred by many transgender students, but never mandated the use of any pronouns, as some lawmakers suggested it had. Students organized protests (above right) against the bill.

While Haslam is permitting the bill to become law, the governor didn't sign it. He just didn't veto it. His statement explained, "I am letting HB 2248 become law without my signature. This bill received considerable debate and discussion during legislative session, and the final form of HB 2248 was revised so that its primary effect is to redirect administrative funding for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion for one year into scholarships for minority engineering students. Although I do not like the precedent of redirecting funds within a higher education institution’s budget, I find the ultimate outcome of the legislation less objectionable and am therefore letting it become law without my endorsement."

The official who led the diversity office, Rickey Hall, vice chancellor for diversity, has accepted a similar position at the University of Washington, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

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