Divisive Concepts Legislation: Additional Information

University community:

 

I want to provide some additional information on a bill passed by both chambers of the Tennessee state legislature related to divisive concepts (HB2670/SB2290). This bill defines subjects that are considered divisive concepts and prohibits the indoctrination of a prescribed belief system. It also addresses mandatory university training that includes divisive concepts as defined by the bill.


Summary of Legislative Process

The bill has seen much debate and change during the 2022 legislative session. Earlier versions included language on investigations and possible sanctions related to violations. These concepts did not make the final version. The current bill passed both chambers of the legislature the week of March 28, 2022. It will now go to the Governor’s office to await his signature. If the bill is signed by the Governor, it will go into effect immediately. Then the Secretary of State will issue a public chapter. This process generally takes several weeks for completion.

 


University Actions on the Legislation

University leadership worked to secure and maintain critical exemptions included in the legislation:

  • The legislation recognizes academic freedom and First Amendment rights, particularly freedom of speech.
  • The legislation recognizes the state and federal requirements to train students and employees on nondiscrimination.
  • The legislation recognizes the need to maintain compliance with academic accreditation standards.
  • The legislation recognizes that the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work can continue.

Legislators have stated numerous times on the record that the intent of the legislation is not to impact the teaching, debate, or discussion of any topic.

 

University leadership expressed concerns on prescriptive investigative language and worked to communicate concerns on language suggesting disciplinary action for violations. In both cases, the language was ultimately removed from the bill.

 


Response to the Legislation

Message to the UT Martin Community 3/30/2022

 

Many of you have been watching the discussion in the state legislature surrounding a bill related to divisive concepts (HB2670/SB2290). This bill defines subjects that are considered by the General Assembly to be divisive concepts and prohibits the indoctrination of a prescribed belief system. It also addresses mandatory university training that includes divisive concepts as defined by the bill.  Please know this: the bill does expressly recognize several key exemptions, including the protection of academic freedom and what is taught in the classrooms; free speech rights; state and federal requirements to train students and employees on non-discrimination; and the need to maintain compliance with academic accreditation standards.

 

Indoctrination is a strong word. 

 

We do not indoctrinate our students at the University of Tennessee at Martin.  We believe in freedom of speech.  We believe in academic freedom and the opportunity to discuss, debate and challenge one another in classrooms and other environments across our university.  We value the opportunity to listen to new ideas and formulate our own opinions based on inquiry and curiosity.

 

We know that you will have many questions about the bill. To that end, we are developing a webpage that will assist you with any questions that you may have about the bill.  A link to the information will be provided soon. This resource will describe the bill and let you know what it covers (and what it does not).  

 

We realize that many of you may be concerned about what media reports and social media are reporting about the bill and its contents.  Please use this resource as your guide, as we want to provide you with the actual language and interpretation of the bill.

 

In our mission statement we affirm that the University of Tennessee at Martin educates and engages responsible citizens to lead and serve in a diverse world.  We will continue to provide an educational experience that reflects this commitment to our students.

 


What Will Not Change in Response to the Legislation

  • The university will continue diversity and inclusion training. We will review all trainings that have been mandatory at UT Martin to ensure compliance with the new law.  We have very few trainings that are marked as mandatory.
  • Hiring, tenure, promotion, and graduation practices will remain unchanged.
  • The university will continue to support great conversations and discussions in our classrooms and across campus.  The legislation specifically recognizes academic freedom and freedom of speech.

Legal Protection for Employees

In this legislation there is no basis for new legal claims against faculty or staff at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

 

Typically, if a faculty or staff member is sued in their capacity as a university employee, the Office of the General Counsel represents the individual and any judgment or settlement is paid out of university funds or other state funds. However, employees may have personal liability if they have acted willfully, maliciously, or criminally, or if their acts or omissions were done for personal gain. Although the Tennessee attorney general makes the decision on whether university employees may be represented, the Office of the General Counsel is usually granted authority to represent an employee. Campus leadership will request that the Office of the General Counsel take all reasonable steps to seek this authority in the event an employee is sued in their official capacity with regard to this legislation.

 

More information is available at counsel.tennessee.edu/liability.

 


Support

UT Martin faculty and staff do important work, including work that addresses challenging topics, and we support that work. If you have questions or needs, contact chancellor@utm.edu and someone will connect you to resources at UT Martin.

 


Mission Statement and Core Values:

Remember that our Mission Statement and Core Values define who we are as a university:

 

The University of Tennessee at Martin educates and engages responsible citizens to lead and serve in a diverse world.

 

Our Core Values are:

  • Academic Program Excellence
  • Student Experience and Success
  • Inclusion
  • Advocacy and Service

Academic Program Excellence:  We will continue to uphold and protect the academic freedom of our tenured, pretenure and non-tenure track faculty in our classrooms.  All faculty should have the right to share their knowledge within their academic discipline.

 

Student Experience and Success:  We believe in freedom of speech and that our classrooms need to be spaces for discussion, debate and creative thought.  Our students will grow when presented with new ideas and have the opportunity to challenge, question or affirm their personal beliefs. The University of Tennessee at Martin is a place of inquiry, not indoctrination.

 

Inclusion:  We will strive to develop a campus that is welcoming to all.  We expect all university community members to show respect to one another, even when differing viewpoints and attitudes emerge.