March 2, 2017

CHANGE: Lawmakers move to start ‘intellectual diversity’ office at UT.

A year after the General Assembly de-funded the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee’s flagship campus in Knoxville, a panel of state lawmakers voted Wednesday to create an “intellectual diversity” office there.

Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, recommended the office while the Senate Education Committee was reviewing the UT budget as proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam. Hensley proposed an amendment that would set aside $450,000 from the budget to fund the office on the Knoxville campus, a move some senators suggested would encourage more people with conservative views to speak their minds.

UT President Joe DiPietro, who had been fielding questions from the committee for more than an hour, seemed blindsided. But he urged the lawmakers to give university leaders a chance to consider other options.

“I have not seen your amendment. You’ve caught me flat-footed,” DiPietro told the lawmakers. “It’s not a good thing for you or for us to be in these circumstances with these kinds of amendments.”

The education committee unanimously approved Hensley’s change, sending the budget on for consideration in the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. It was the latest provocative action from a panel that has repeatedly put UT administrators on the defensive by taking aim at day-to-day campus operations.

They did a good job of keeping it quiet, as I’d heard nothing about it. I found out about it from a former student on Facebook, who posted this story and said she wished UT had had this office when she was an undergraduate.

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