Tennessee legislature moves to launch intellectual diversity office at flagship campus
- Following a 2016 move to reallocate funds from the University of Tennessee's diversity office to a scholarship fund for black students, lawmakers in Tennessee have advanced a proposal to support a new office of intellectual diversity in the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System.
- The proposal generated skepticism within the legislature, but ultimately passed for final review. It is viewed by some observers as a further threat to the school's diversity office, which lost more than $400,000 in 2016 following remarks made by its staff on gender neutrality and religious tolerance.
- Some lawmakers say the proposal addresses concerns among UT-Knoxville students about the perceived pressure to withhold conservative viewpoints in academic spaces.
There is an increasing focus on the idea of intellectual diversity, particularly as it relates to allowing conservative voices on traditionally liberal campuses. From proposals to require an even number of conservative and liberal professors on campus to criticisms by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that colleges professors are indoctrinating students with liberal rhetoric, the conversation is taking center stage across the nation.
The liberal nature of college campuses, when juxtaposed with growing conservative representation in state and federal legislature will inevitably cause divergent views on the role of higher education in responding to the political shifts. But with issues like campus safety and academic censorship tied to these shifts, presidents may have to consistently promote how one bad experience can dramatically alter the financial positioning of a school.
Diversity and inclusion and free speech at public college campuses will continue to be a primary point of focus for presidents and executives, and both should be well-positioned to offer insight and data on how legislative changes in these areas can impact enrollment, media coverage and federal funding, among other things.
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