Bill to cut UT Diversity funding passes without Governor Bill Haslam’s signature

The bill would divert all funds designated as salaries for the University of Tennessee office, a total of $436,700, to minority engineering scholarships.

UT Diversity matter protests on step of Tennessee State Capitol in this March 8, 2016 photo. - Courtesy of WATE

NASHVILLE (WATE) – It looks like the University of Tennessee Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion is leaving his position just in time.

Friday, Governor Bill Haslam returned all remaining bills passed by the Tennessee General Assembly, including a controversial bill that would cut funding for the University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Haslam said he is letting the bill pass without his signature because of the controversy surrounding the bill.

Rickey Hall (UT)
Rickey Hall (UT)

The University of Washington announced Thursday that University of Tennessee Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion Rickey Hall will be their new vice president of the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity and chief diversity officer beginning on August 1.

Previous story: UT Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion takes job in Washington state

“This bill received considerable debate and discussion during legislative session, and the final form of HB 2248 was revised so that its primary effect is to redirect administrative funding for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion for one year into scholarships for minority engineering students,” said Haslam. “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.”

Previous story: Bill to defund University of Tennessee Office for Diversity heads to Gov. Haslam’s desk

Knoxville Representative Martin Daniel said he didn’t expect any resistance or objection from Haslam. He said the redirection of funds to scholarships is pretty significant. A total of $436,700 will be used to fund minority engineering scholarships.

Daniel said he feels like the Office for Diversity and Inclusion only highlights the difference between people and he feels like it is a waste of money. He said he wants to see tax payer money used more efficiently.

However, faculty members at the University of Tennessee felt much differently about the office. In March, around 30 faculty members signed an open letter to Tennessee legislators in support of students, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion and Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall. The group is looking to strengthen the commitment to diversity and inclusion of “underrepresented groups at UT in a manner that both acknowledges” a diverse society.

To read the open letter click here.

Resolution directing state to sue over refugees

Haslam also returned the refugee resolution unsigned, which allows the Attorney General to initiate legal action regarding refugee placements and authorizes the General Assembly to hire outside counsel in the event the Attorney General does not pursue action in this case. Haslam said he has constitutional concerns about one branch of government telling another branch of government what to do. He returned the bill requesting the Attorney General clarify whether the legislative branch actually has the authority to hire outside counsel to represent the state.

“I also question whether seeking to dismantle the Refugee Act of 1980 is the proper course for our state,” said Haslam. “Rather, I believe the best way to protect Tennesseans from terrorism is to take the steps outlined in my administration’s Public Safety Action Plan, which enhances our ability to analyze information for links to terrorist activity, creates a Cyber Security Advisory Council, restructures our office of Homeland Security, establishes school safety teams, and provides training for active shooter incidents and explosive device attacks.”

Previous story: Tenn. House passes resolution directing state to sue over refugees

Tennessee Democratic spokesperson, Spencer Bowers, criticized the Governor’s decision to allow the State of Tennessee to sue the Federal Government over refugee resettlement.

“Governor Haslam caved to right-wing extremist, once again, today by allowing Tennessee to be the first state in the nation to sue the Federal Government over the refugee resettlement. Refusing refugees who are in desperate need of place to seek shelter from war and hardship creates a culture of fear for the immigrant communities in Tennessee,” said Bowers. “It’s not who we are as a state and Governor Haslam should be ashamed of his inaction today.”

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