Students, faculty and staff must not be ‘penalized’ for rejecting ‘divisive’ academic concepts, law states
A new Tennessee law forbids public higher education from requiring allegiance to “divisive concepts,” including some tenets of “antiracism” and diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI.
The legislation becomes binding July 1, according to the Tennessee General Assembly. The bill passed the Tennessee House and Senate in late April, and Gov. Bill Lee signed it April 28.
“I proposed HB 1376 because of complaints I had received from some of our state’s colleges,” John Ragan, the Tennessee state representative who proposed the bill, told The College Fix via email.
Nineteen Tennessee representatives, all Republicans, co-sponsored the bill with Ragan (pictured).
“This bill should produce the results encompassed in its title: ‘The Tennessee Higher Education Freedom of Expression and Transparency Act,’ Ragan said. “That is to say the act buttresses freedom of expression in our state-supported, college campus educational environments.”
The bill summary names 16 “divisive concepts” colleges cannot enforce, many involving sex or race stereotyping or scapegoating.
These concepts include: “an individual should be discriminated against … because of the individual’s race or sex,” “the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist,” and “the rule of law does not exist.”
House Bill 1376 also affirms the Declaration of Independence by defining as “divisive” the teaching that “all Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” [emphasis added].
The legislation states that “a student or employee of an institution must not be penalized, discriminated against, or receive adverse treatment due to their refusal to support, believe, endorse, embrace, confess, act upon, or otherwise assent to a divisive concept.”
Additionally, “a student or employee of an institution must not be required to endorse a specific ideology or political viewpoint to be eligible for hiring, tenure, promotion, or graduation, and institutions must not ask the ideological or political viewpoint of a student, job applicant, job candidate, or candidate for promotion or tenure.”
In other words, colleges can’t compel students, faculty or staff to support popular academic ideologies on systemic racism, white supremacy, and other concepts.
That means public colleges can’t require diversity statements in hiring.
The legislation also establishes a “complaint system” for employees and students to file a report if they believe their university is violating the law.
Additionally, campus groups would not have the power to veto other groups or their speakers.
The Fix reached out to Tennessee State Rep. Justin Jones, a Democrat representative from Nashville, to ask why he had opposed the bill. No response has been received.
‘There is not much [in the law] to complain about from an academic freedom perspective,’ politics professor wrote
“Maybe I’m the one missing something, but the outrage over the new TN divisive concepts bill seems wholly unjustified,” Princeton University politics Professor Keith Whittington wrote April 17 on Twitter.
Maybe I'm the one missing something, but the outrage over the new TN divisive concepts bill seems wholly unjustified. Details in the blog post below. https://t.co/MtVKRIcEUP
— Keith E. Whittington (@kewhittington) April 17, 2023
“Note that [the law] does not bar individuals from joining organizations or participating in activities where they might choose to endorse or promote such concepts,” Whittington wrote the same day on Reason.com’s Volokh Conspiracy blog.
“Unlike Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, for example, it does nothing to restrict ideas or viewpoints that faculty might advocate or promote in the classroom,” Whittington continued.
“The only restriction on what professors might do is that they may not penalize students that refuse to ‘support, believe, endorse [or] embrace’ those viewpoints,” he wrote.
“Students can be exposed to such ideas,” he added.
Tennessee legislature ‘a huge victory,’ anti-woke medical group wrote
“[HB 1376] starts rolling back divisive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion requirements at publicly funded colleges and universities, including medical schools.”
“The bill’s findings clearly state that ‘public medical institutions of higher education best serve the state when providing meritorious education and training,'” the organization stated.
“Once Governor Lee signs the bill, Tennessee will have gone further than any other state in weeding out DEI at medical schools,” according to the organization.
“No one should be forced to abandon their morals or peaceful, lawful beliefs to avoid discrimination in public higher education institutions,” Rep. Ragan told The Fix in his email.
“The impact of this bill is that it keeps colleges about advancing knowledge, not about advancing political or social agendas,” he said.
IMAGE: TN House GOP Caucus/YouTube