March 3, 2016
To: University of Tennessee, Knoxville faculty, staff, and students
From: Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and President Joe DiPietro
Subject: A message about diversity funding from Chancellor Cheek and President DiPietro
As you likely are aware, a discussion of funding for the University of Tennessee System’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year was on the agenda at Wednesday afternoon’s state Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville
On Wednesday morning, at a special joint House Education hearing on diversity initiatives in higher education, System and campus leadership was clear and direct on the importance of diversity and inclusion, as evidenced in the archived video of the hearing. View the video at http://tnga.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=350&clip_id=11860. We outlined many of the programs and services that would be at risk if the legislature took action to reduce or eliminate diversity funding.
We also noted that diversity is defined in many different ways and that our commitment to it extends beyond race and ethnicity to encompass many other aspects including gender identity, sexual orientation, religious belief, geography, physical ability, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family educational attainment, among others.
Diversity is more than a social concept. It’s an important aspect of the academic experience and our effective operations. It’s about improving access, opportunity, and engagement as we seek to prepare all of our students to live and work in a diverse global society filled with differing ideas, cultures, opinions, and approaches to life. Diversity and civility also are essential for our students and our institutional success, and we value each person on this campus as we promote and expect respect for all.
At the end of the day, the Senate Education Committee voted to amend the governor’s proposed budget for UT by reassigning $8 million from the UT Knoxville budget to UT Extension and to rural outreach through UT Martin and UT Chattanooga. From its language – “only federal funds shall be expended to support the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville” – the amendment’s intent is clear and concerning. It is also important to note that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at UT Knoxville receives no federal funding.
While the amendment was unexpected and is disappointing, several additional steps remain in the process toward passage of the state appropriations bill by the General Assembly. We are in contact with legislators and will continue to vigorously seek to resolve issues so that reinstatement of the funding as originally proposed by the governor occurs before the legislature approves the final state budget in April.
We will share further updates with you as developments warrant between now and then. In the meantime, I encourage you to regularly visit our UT Advocacy website at http://advocacy.tennessee.edu for related information and resources and to join our advocacy network.
Thank you for all you do for our University.