(The Center Square) – A bill to address requirements related to “divisive concepts” at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities is set to be discussed in both Tennessee’s Senate and House on Wednesday.
The bill will require public higher education schools to conduct surveys of the campus climate with both faculty and students every two years related to students’ comfort level in speaking freely on campus.
“This legislation is an effort to ensure that our public universities incredible diversity efforts are not undermined by an initiative that seeks to drive Tennesseans further apart,” said Rep. Ron M. Gant, R-Piperton, who is carrying House Bill 2670 for Speaker Cameron Sexton. “We reject the formation of concepts that attempt to cast a shadow on groups of people due to factors not in their control. The divisive concepts which we are seeking to address might seem familiar to you.”
Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro, compared it to a bill passed related to K-12 teaching last year and said it would be good to look back on the impact of that bill.
The bill was amended in the House Higher Education Subcommittee to require an investigation of any reported violations.
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, asked if the bill was an attempt to remove “critical race theory” from Tennessee’s colleges and universities but Gant said a succinct “no.”
“No one is opposed to the free and open discussion of concepts, history, all the issues,” said Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis. “It’s where the pendulum swings so far where you cannot have free and open discussion because there is a movement to say you are wrong, we’re right.
“Let’s not try to indoctrinate our young people into a certain belief because that’s what I believe or you believe.”
The House version of the bill is scheduled to be discussed by the Education Administration Committee on Wednesday while the Senate version is on the agenda for the Senate Education Committee.
“Do we have any data that says putting forth a concept of this nature, dealing with divisive concepts and so forth, is it a best practice anywhere in the nation?” Hakeem asked. “Has this been studied? Is this an emotional reaction to the concept of critical race theory?”
Gant again replied, “to my knowledge, no.”
The bill would prevent schools from providing mandatory training that includes divisive concepts or making it a requirement to agree with any divisive concepts in order to complete a course, what Gant explained as “mandated adherence to divisive topics.”
“It is ensuring that our universities remain places of open dialogue,” said Rep. Mark Cochran, R-Englewood, without “… forced agreement with an idea. You can still debate and talk about the negative impact.”
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, questioned whether open dialogue in a course discussing slavery would be considered outside the lines in this bill.
“I hope that we can actually get to … stay in a space where we’re freely able to discuss all of these issues,” Parkinson said. “Because that’s what’s going to bring on healing for our country. I want to make sure that no one is intentionally made to feel uncomfortable.”