May 20, 2016

TENNESSEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY 1, UT OFFICE OF DIVERSITY 0. Here’s an email that went out to the University of Tennessee community from Chancellor Jimmy Cheek today:

It saddens me to share with you that a new state law requires us to defund the Office of Diversity and Inclusion from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017. This means that no funds can go to operate the office. Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall has announced that he is becoming the vice president for the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity at the University of Washington and chief diversity officer for the UW system. One of the employees in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has been offered another position with the university, and the university continues to assist the other employee whose position is being eliminated. As the law requires, the university will reallocate the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s budget to minority engineering scholarships.

The new law does not permit us to reallocate money to continue to fund the Office of Diversity and Inclusion from another budget. As a result, there will be a reorganization of the units that reported to the vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion. The Office of Multicultural Student Life will report to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Life; the Office of Equity and Diversity will report to the chancellor; the Educational Advancement Program will report to the Office of the Provost; and the Commission for Blacks, the Commission for LGBT People, the Commission for Women, and the Council for Diversity and Interculturalism will report to the chancellor. The Pride Center will remain a gathering space for students, but it will no longer be staffed by university employees.

We are still attempting to determine how other portions of the law affect the university. I know there will be more questions, some of which have not been resolved. The vice chancellors and I will communicate further when we have more information.

This in no way diminishes our commitment to diversity and inclusion. The new law doesn’t impact most of the funding for those efforts. We will use the coming year to determine how to more effectively advance diversity and inclusion on our campus, how to measure the effectiveness of our efforts, and who should lead those efforts in the future.

Diversity and inclusion are priorities in our Vol Vision 2020 plan. I am committed to making sure each person is respected for who they are and that each person feels safe and valued on our campus. It’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re providing access, accountability, opportunity, and education.

Over the past year, I met with students from the Black Student Union and UT Diversity Matters to listen to their concerns. We resolved some problems and disagreed about others, but we were listening and talking and I learned a lot from our students. As a result of these meetings, we have improved our bias protocol, increased our commitment to inclusivity training, and addressed diversity issues in our Student Counseling Center.

I know there is still much work to do to create and maintain a welcoming work and educational climate. I am committed to continuing the conversation, listening, and taking positive action steps. I am asking for your help in these efforts.

Jimmy G. Cheek

I’m curious to see what will happen next year.

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