Governor Bill Haslam has chosen to let HB 2248 become law without his endorsement.
Supporters of the University of Tennessee's Office for Diversity and Inclusion had urged Haslam to veto the bill that redirects funding away from programs of the office for one year.
In related news, WATE-TV is reporting that Rickey Hall, UT's inaugural Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion and who has held the position for the past three years, has resigned in order to fill a similar role at the University of Washington. "His entire professional life has been devoted to working on behalf of equity and diversity, and he has made a significant difference at the universities where he’s worked," said University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce.
In a statement, Haslam said:
I am letting HB 2248 become law without my signature. This bill received considerable debate and discussion during legislative session, and the final form of HB 2248 was revised so that its primary effect is to redirect administrative funding for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion for one year into scholarships for minority engineering students. 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.
Funding from the state that went to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which amounted to some $436,000 this current school year, will go now toward scholarships for minority students in engineering programs. In addition, the University of Tennessee is banned from spending money from the state "to promote the use of gender-neutral pronouns, to promote or inhibit the celebration of religious holidays, or to fund or support Sex Week." The dollar amount includes funds designated as salaries for the office of diversity.
At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, the office of diversity delivered, via the Pride Center's newsletter, suggestions for instructors to consider alternative preferences among students who may not think of themselves in traditional male or female terms. It went as far as suggesting that alternatives may include 'gender neutral pronouns' such as ze and zir.
Later in the semester, the office again riled conservatives when it urged campus offices to be respectful of all faiths during the season of 'holiday parties and celebrations' by being careful to "ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise."
When both the House and Senate approved the bill earlier this session, Governor Haslam had the opportunity (as he does with every piece of legislation) to sign it, veto it, or do nothing and let the bill become law.