UT restaffing Pride Center as diversity funding is restored

The University of Tennessee is looking to hire a director for its LGBT Pride Center following the expiration of a one-year moratorium on diversity-related spending imposed by state legislators.

As Campus Reform previously reported, Tennessee passed a law last year that stripped about $436,000 away from the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, reallocating the money to a minority engineering scholarship program, as well as the purchasing of “In God We Trust” decals for law enforcement vehicles.

UT’s diversity office initially obtained the legislature’s attention because of several controversial initiatives that the office had sponsored, including a set of guidelines advising employees to be sure that their holiday parties were not a “Christmas party in disguise,” and another document that promoted the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

Lawmakers had previously stepped in to deny state funding to UT’s controversial “Sex Week,” which has featured workshops promoting anal sex and BDSM.

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

The bill defunding UT’s diversity office included specific language to close any potential loopholes, clearly specifying that no state funds shall be used 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 did not sign the bill, instead allowing it to become law without his explicit approval.

“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.”  Governor Haslam told The Tennessean.

[RELATED: UT diversity office loses funding after Gov. allows bill to become law]

Now that diversity-related funding has been restored, UT is looking to hire back a director for its LGBT pride center, according to The Knoxville News-Sentinel, which reports that students have been running the center in the interim.

$445,882 has been added to the campus’ budget for the 2017-2018 school year, which the new Chancellor, Beverly Davenport, claims is not a lot of money when it comes to university budgets. She has not stated specifically what the money will be spent on.

“I’ve looked at those monies and we will be spending that money on Title IX, on the pride center, and on wellness,” Chancellor Beverly Davenport said following a recent Board of Trustees meeting. “All that money will be going into those efforts.”

Davenport also noted, though, that the $445,882 being restored to the budget is a relatively small amount of money, and would only cover the cost of about three employees.

[RELATED: Student plans walkout to protest cuts to UT Diversity and Inclusion Office]

Earlier this year, legislators presented the idea of creating an office of intellectual diversity on UT’s campus, with the intent of preserving conservative values. While this idea never worked out, it sparked conversation regarding lawmakers’ intentions when they defunded the diversity office originally.

“We didn’t really mean to just defund them for a year and then bring it back in a year,” stated Republican State Senator Joey Hensley, though fellow Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire said the sunset provision would enable the university to demonstrate that it had addressed the legislature’s concerns.

“If they do clean up their act, then I’ll focus my attention on something else,” Gardenhire stated. “But if the office continues to become very radical and polarizing, 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.”

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