Tennessee state Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) has withdrawn a controversial bill that proposed stripping the funding from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s diversity office of all state funding — more than $1 million — for the coming fiscal year.
Republican lawmakers had been unhappy, to put it mildly, with the office’s advice that more neutral words and language be used when referring to occasions historically commonplace and deeply rooted in the university’s history. References to Christmas celebrations, for example, should be changed to language that links the annual gatherings less to a religion.
The disgruntled lawmakers, citing the diversity effort itself as an attack on Christianity, soon had enough support from the state Senate leadership to move a bill through the Senate Education Committee stripping the university administration of $8 million, the amount designed for diversity programs and compliance reporting.
The Senate bill declared “only federal funds shall be expensed to support the office of diversity and inclusion” at UT Knoxville, a provision the university president, Dr. Joe DiPietro, promptly noted had little meaning since the university office receives no federal funds.
The House version of the bill sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss (R―Jonesborough) would have redirected $100,000 from the diversity office to pay for the school to create “In God We Trust” decals and send them to law enforcement agencies around the state.
In his annual “State of UT” speech, updating students, alums and other supporters of the institution, DiPietro was candid about the risks of halting the institution’s pursuit of diversity and inclusion, asserting they were key to the university’s aim of becoming a world-class institution.