Lawmakers Respond to Tennessee Star Report on ETSU’s Embracing of DEI Policies, In Spite of State Law

William Block, M.D., dean of medicine at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine, recently sent out an email, in which he defined the words “equity” as “the quality of being fair and impartial,” and “woke” as “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” The email is one of several in which Dean appears to be placing the tenets of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) over those of achievement. It is a position that runs counter to recently passed Tennessee state law, raising questions and concerns with state lawmakers.

As the basis of policy, Block (pictured above) asserted that DEI has been “repeatedly proven to improve outcomes for our patients and makes us better doctors.” The Tennessee Star reached out to the Dean requesting supporting documentation but has yet to receive a response.

That is something that does not sit well with State Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) (pictured here). “If ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine’s curriculum includes DEI on the basis of studies that demonstrate positive outcomes for patients, not only should those studies be available to the public on their website, I want to see those studies, too”, the Chairman of the Senate Committee for Government Operations told The Star in an email.

State Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) has introduced legislation scheduled to be heard next week in the Senate Education Committee that specifically prohibits institutions of higher education offering medical or health-related degrees from requiring DEI training as a condition for earning a degree.

Hensley (pictured left) told The Star, “The challenge is separating DEI from general requirements because it’s all so interwoven.”

He explained, “Universities defend the inclusion of DEI principals by saying they are just trying to get more people to graduate, and that’s fine, but it shouldn’t come at the exclusion of others.”

The state senator says his concerns aren’t exclusive to ETSU, citing issues in several other Tennessee Universities, leading him to wonder if governing boards are actually doing the job they are appointed to do. Hensley cites issues at the University of Tennessee Knoxville as an example.

Despite legislators defunding the university’s Office of Diversity and Equity for one year in 2016, diverting its monies toward minority scholarships, efforts to increase the influence of DEI have continued unabated.

Scott Yenor, a Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life, wrote last February in Knoxville’s City Journal:

Other universities in the Tennessee system are also building DEI infrastructure and policies. None of the DEI apparatus is yet deeply embedded into the fabric of UTK, meaning that there is still time for Tennessee’s legislature to act, but that window is closing fast. And legislators in other states should take note.

This week, former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Melissa Steal-Jones, and former state health commissioner Lisa Pearcy appeared before the House Education Administration Committee for approval of the appointment to the East Tennessee State University (ETSU) Board of Trustees. Usually a formality, this time around the three faced pointed questions from committee members with State Representative Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) and State Representative Justin Lafferty (R-Knoxville) expressing concerns that the board of trustees was failing to ensure that ETSU followed state law.

Lafferty, in questioning Pearcy, acknowledged that he valued diversity, but was concerned that there has been a movement by universities, when recruiting students, to place the principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, (DEI) over merit. He asked the former commissioner if she felt this was appropriate for those going into the medical profession.

Pearcy responded, “All selection needs to be based on merit. Having said that, it needs to be equal opportunity, and everyone needs to be included in the process, but regardless of what we are talking about, it needs to be based on merit and not one’s innate characteristics.”

Lawmakers appeared unconvinced, as the former state health commissioner failed to receive confirmation. Despite Chairman Mark White (R-Memphis) voting to confirm, the “nays” carried the vote 12-6.

During last year’s session, the State General Assembly passed a law prohibiting universities from mandating training related to divisive concepts, as designed by the legislation. The law further restricts state funds from being used to provide faculty with incentives to include divisive concepts in the curriculum.

State Senator Hensley praised the efforts of his colleagues in the House in holding potential board members accountable for university policies.

“This is very much on my radar”, he told The Star, “Lafferty and Ragan’s efforts in the [Tennessee State] House lets universities and colleges know that we are paying attention, and willing to hold them accountable.”

Hensley’s Bill, SB603, is scheduled to be heard in Senate Education Committee on 3/15, with its companion piece, HB0571, being introduced in the State House Higher Education Subcommittee on 3/13.

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TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected] He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.
Photo “Dr. William Block” by ETSU and “Stanton-Gerber Hall” is by Boboskaditdatin CC3.0; photo “State Sen. Kerry Roberts” is by Kerry Roberts and photo “Joey Hensley” by Joey Hensley.



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One Thought to “Lawmakers Respond to Tennessee Star Report on ETSU’s Embracing of DEI Policies, In Spite of State Law”

  1. Jay

    Get serious and pull real money taxpayer money should never go for this bs.