UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion Deserves the Coal


December 21, 2015 11:00AM

The University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion deserved to win this year’s lump of coal. The Tennessee Constitution directs the Legislature to “establish and support such postsecondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines,” so, unlike most things it does, running a university is something the state is authorized to do. The “as it determines” clause may have been three words too many because, someone “determined” that we needed an “Office for Diversity and Inclusion” as part of our flagship institute of higher learning. And now there it sits, worse than useless, affixed like a mass of barnacles.

The office first made national news in August when it “encouraged” (get used to this word) other students to use “gender neutral” pronouns like “ze” or” xe,” lest one commit the grave offense of using “he” to refer to a man. Lawmakers promised swift action in response, but they were not swift enough, apparently. Showing remarkable disregard to Legislature’s threat to its funding, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion once again has drawn the spotlight for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with higher learning. Now the office is “encouraging” (there’s that word again) students to take a few simple steps when celebrating the holidays so as to, and this is an exact quote, “[e]nsure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.” What exactly is the non-religious holiday we are celebrating in the first place? Festivus? Break out the aluminum pole. [Editor’s note: Festivus is a very real religious holiday to me.]

Do not, by the way, let the term “encourage” mislead you. There really is no choice to it. The office’s “Best Practices” (their words) are couched in the language of “should nots,” including this one (again, their words): “Holiday parties and celebrations should not play games with religious and cultural themes–for example, ‘Dreidel’ or ‘Secret Santa.’”

Unreal. Santa is religious? I missed the part about the fat guy from the North Pole in the heavy woolen suit riding a flying sleigh and showering good boys and girls with toys in the Gospel of Luke. I thought Santa and Frosty were safe but what do I know? The thicket of political sensitivity grows evermore.

UT spokesman spokeshuman Karen Simsen can’t understand the fuss. The school does not have an official policy, just suggestions. But suggestions have a way of becoming mandatory on campus pretty quickly. The politically correct mobs are not well noted for their tolerance of diverging viewpoints these days. Professor Glick had a few suggestions on the University of Missouri’s campus. When the Intercultural Affairs Committee at Yale decided to “encourage” (there’s that word again) students to be thoughtful about their Halloween attire, and a Yale professor had some gentle disagreements, some students had a few “suggestions” for her husband. They do not appear optional. The phrases, “it’s not about creating an intellectual space,” and, “he doesn’t deserve to be listened to,” stand out in the video. Students at Hamilton College went directly to the end game, openly calling for an end to free speech, among 83 other demands. You will forgive us, UT spokeshuman, when we doubt academia’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas. The jig is up. We recognize your requests as demands and your “safe spaces” as incubators of fascism. We want nothing of it in Tennessee.

The solution seems obvious—take care of business, Roadhouse style. If we aren’t going to take this level-headed remedial action, then we need to settle for fully defunding the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. It is worse than annoying. It is expensive. The Vice Chancellor of Diversity makes $217,000 a year. Steady yourself. It does get worse. UT spends $1.5 million annually on something with the exquisite title of “diversity programming.” The entire UT system spends $5.5 million on it.

The state’s sole authority for taking each of these dollars out of your pocket is to promote “higher learning.” I am not sure that Santa warnings should count as “higher learning.” [Spoiler ahead for sub-eight-year-old readers.] He is, you know, a fixation of children in elementary school who fashion images of him out of construction paper. Then again, maybe I could use a good bit of programming too.

This is funny, yes, but it is a serious breach of the public trust. When UT uses your money for something that manifestly does not further higher learning, it lacks a legitimate basis for taking it in the first place. That makes it theft. It is unconstitutional and immoral. We must understand it in such terms. We have roads and bridges that need fixing. We could fund the state’s entire school choice program for special needs children on the Vice Chancellor of Diversity’s salary alone. UT’s diversity program could fund 120 full tuition scholarships for students, and this would actually promote higher learning. Any tax increase should be absolutely out of the question. The Office for Diversity and Inclusion is an affront. It needs to go.

Any legislator committed to anything less stripping the office of every last dollar has betrayed the public trust. After all, the shame for Professor Glick’s continuing employment on the taxpayer’s dime belongs to the Missouri Legislature. The job of the University of Tennessee is, in fact, (to borrow from that awful Yale student) to “create an intellectual space.” The Office for Diversity of Inclusion is destroying it. Now that Tennesseans have donned the office with our 2015 Lump of Coal, we should begin preliminary discussion of which legislator will so grossly fail to fulfill the constitutional and moral obligation to terminate all funding to the Office for Diversity and Inclusion as to make him or her (“zhe/zher”?) worthy of 2016’s award.