Tennessee state senator’s bill would ban diversity programs on college campuses

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A Tennessee state senator has introduced a bill that would abolish diversity programs, ban diversity officers and end preference based on race, ethnicity and gender on college campuses in the Volunteer State.

Republican Jim Summerville calls his slate of legislation the “Civil Rights Initiative of 2013,” reports Knoxville NBC affiliate WBIR-TV. In addition to forbidding diversity preference programs, the proposal would prohibit the state from keeping any statistics based on race, gender or ethnicity, or using those criteria for hiring, except as mandated by federal law.

“It’s a little demeaning, I think, to classify people in those categories,” Summerville told WBIR. “They might wonder ‘Am I here because I’m any good or am I here to fill a quota?’ So I think it’s time to let this go.”

Summerville calls his bill “the last battle of the civil rights movement,” notes The Tennessean, Nashville’s principal daily newspaper.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped to live to see an America where his children would be judged ‘not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,'” Summerville told The Tennessean. “I think he’d be sad if he were among us today to see that this generation has failed in that hope.”

The bill has no corresponding sponsor in the state’s House of Representatives, though Summerville is optimistic that he will find one.

The legislation is also not without its critics.

“The bill represents an unprecedented micro-managing of higher education staffing, would hurt Tennessee schools in regional and national rankings, and diminish efforts to make Tennessee’s schools reflect the growing diversity of Tennessee’s population,” representatives from the Tennessee Equality Project told Cookeville’s Herald-Citizen at a rally at Tennessee Tech University.

Summerville is an adjunct professor at Austin Peay University. He holds a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree in American History from Vanderbilt University.

The GOP senator landed in hot water in 2012 for writing “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks” in an email to Tennessee state representative Barbara Ward Cooper, who chairs the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators.

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