Diversity office loses funding for one year in budget battle with lawmakers

Legislation that will strip state funds from the University of Tennessee Knoxville's (UTK) diversity office is on its way to the governor’s desk after both the House and Senate voted in favor of the bill last week.

The recently passed bill explicitly prevents the school from ever using funds “to promote the use of gender neutral pronouns; to promote or inhibit the celebration of religious holidays; or to fund or support Sex Week.”

This year, lawmakers found UT’s Sex Week particularly “disturbing” after it hosted an amateur porn star to lecture students on “butt stuff” and “oral pleasures.”

[RELATED: UT Sex Week to feature porn star under guise of ‘sex educator’]

Although the House and the Senate were considering two separate companion bills, only the House’s bill was ultimately passed, though not without some amending. The new version of the bill will divert—for one year only—about $436,000 from the diversity office into scholarships for students in the school’s engineering program.

[RELATED: Lawmakers: UT diversity office a ‘national embarrassment’]

As originally written, HB 2248 included an absolute prohibition on “the expenditure of state funds to support the office for diversity and inclusion” at UT, but Rep. Micah Van Huss, the primary sponsor, submitted an initial amendment that would reduce the cut to just $100,000 annually over the next three years. The money would instead be used to purchase decals with the national motto—“In God We Trust”—for law enforcement vehicles.

[RELATED: TN legislators ponder cutting funds for Diversity and Inclusion, Sex Week]

Now, however, only 25 percent of the diversity office’s budget will be used for what legislators are calling the “decal program” and the remaining 75 percent will be put in a scholarship fund for minority engineering students.

Tennessee’s state legislature has a historically tense relationship with UT’s diversity office, which began in 2013 when lawmakers cut funds for the first time from the diversity office after hosting its first annual Sex Week. Ever since, lawmakers have been highly critical of some of the school’s more progressive practices, such as championing the use of gender-neutral pronouns and encouraging faculty members to “ensure that [their] holiday party is not a Christmas party.”

[RELATED: Universities urge students to use gender neutral pronouns]

[RELATED: Faculty senate defends UT inclusive holiday party guidelines]

“These events are critically important and were chosen based on an overwhelming number of requests from the UT student body, whose feedback we rely heavily upon in selecting our events,” organizers of UT’s Sex Week told Campus Reform.

[RELATED: Lawmakers threaten to ‘step in’ to prevent UT Sex Week]

Feedback from state lawmakers, however, was not so positive.

“The content is horrifically disturbing,” State Rep. Kevin Brooks (R) told Fox News. “The fact that we are using state dollars and state classrooms on state campuses to promote UT Sex Week is unforgivable.”

“These are taxpayer dollars, taxpayer funds. Frankly, [Sex Week] doesn’t represent the values of my constituents and the majority of Tennesseans,” the bill’s author, Micah Van Huss (R), added.

Accordingly, the House passed the amended version of the bill Thursday with a vote of 63-21, and the Senate with a vote of 27-3.

UPDATE: Campus Reform reached out to Gov. Haslam's office and was informed that he has not yet received the bill. According to the General Assembly website, the bill is automatically transferred to the governor once it has been signed by the leaders of both chambers. Currently, it has only been signed by the House Speaker. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski