After having its funding frozen for a year, the University of Tennessee’s (UT) diversity and inclusion office has cash to spend again.
As Campus Reform reports, the first item of business is the hiring of a director for the LGBT Pride Center.
That state had cut off “diversity” funding a year ago after Tennessee lawmakers became fed-up with the university’s penchant for funding bizarre projects like “Sex Week,” a study on gender neutral pronouns and a directive on how to avoid any mention of Christmas during the Christmas season.
The University of Tennessee’s diversity office found itself $436,000 short of funds that were diverted to other projects, like a minority scholarship program for the engineering department.
The bill that removed funding was very particular in its references to the offending activities of the diversity office, saying that state funds could not be utilized to “promote the use of gender neutral pronouns, to promote or inhibit the celebration of religious holidays, or to fund or support sex week.”
Republican Governor Bill Haslam tried to play the decision down the middle, not signing the bill and not vetoing it either. “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,” Haslam told The Tennessean.
But with the diversity center flush with funds, it can now hire a director for its “pride” center that has been under the administrative control of students for the past year, according to The Knoxville News-Sentinel.
Though the university is getting another $445,882 from the state, UT chancellor Beverly Davenport is downplaying the significance of the money, saying it will only cover the salaries of three employees. Davenport says the additional funds will be used on “wellness” in addition to the LGBT center.
Tennessee legislators aren’t at all happy with the turn of events. “We didn’t really mean to just defund them for a year and then bring it back in a year,” said Tennessee Senator Joey Hensley. His fellow Republican senator, Todd Gardenhire, suggested a one-year freeze was a good idea because it gave the university a chance to show they got the legislature’s message about funding “radical and polarizing” projects.
“If they do clean up their act, then I’ll focus my attention on something else,” Gardenshire said, noting that if they resume their old habits, “then I will of course focus my attention back on that to take that money away and apply it to something very useful instead of something very divisive.”
The senators had suggested that the university try promulgating a office of intellectual diversity that might serve to keep conservative thought alive on campus. The concept apparently did not catch fire with the university’s administration, though it did provide a clear indication that the state was expecting more diversity from the diversity office.