Sunday, May 28, 2023
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How my state’s getting DEI out of higher ed

Wokeness has infected higher education.

My home state of Tennessee is no exception.

That’s why we just passed some of the strongest reforms in the nation — including a historic first.

Tennessee colleges and universities can no longer force faculty, students or applicants to prove their commitment to so-called “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Many of our state’s institutions have tried to do exactly that, requiring people to submit “DEI statements” that put a greater emphasis on identity politics than professional qualifications.

Tennessee is the first state to ban this bogus policy, and it’s just one example of how we’re putting merit back into higher education — and getting divisive woke ideas out.

Our reforms became law in late April when Gov. Bill Lee signed legislation that I and Rep. John Ragan introduced in the state Senate and House.

I took up this cause for a simple reason.

When I went to college and medical school, higher education sought to uphold high standards.

But in recent years, most Tennessee colleges and graduate schools have lowered standards under the guise of DEI.

And they’re doing it on the taxpayer’s dime.

Tennessee reforms became law in late April when Gov. Bill Lee signed the legislation on DEI.
Getty Images

I’m especially worried by medical schools’ decline.

Merit matters there more than anywhere else, since treating patients is a matter of life and death.

As someone who practiced small-town medicine for 37 years, I can tell you that nobody wants a below-average doctor.

They want someone who deserved to go to medical school and got the best training tuition could buy.

DEI doesn’t belong in any of higher education, but in medical school, it’s particularly dangerous.

Our new law starts getting DEI out of our 20-plus public universities, community colleges, and graduate and medical schools.

The ban on DEI statements is the centerpiece.

Institutions shouldn’t hire faculty or admit students based on their political activism.

Imagine if the University of Tennessee only admitted students who were Catholic or Protestant.

That’s obviously wrong, yet it’s essentially happening with DEI.

Female friends studying together while sitting at table in college cafeteria
The new law will remove DEI from 20-plus public universities, community colleges and graduate and medical schools with the ban on DEI statements being the centerpiece, writes Joey Hensley.
Getty Images/Maskot

Students and faculty should be chosen based on their experience, excellence and expertise.

When you throw DEI in the mix, you guarantee that people will be chosen for their beliefs, not their bona fides.

That’s not why taxpayers fund UT or any other public university.

They want to invest in the next generation of leaders, not the next generation of political activists, and that’s why DEI statements had to go.

Our new law also keeps our colleges and universities focused on their core educational mission.

Going forward, no institution can use taxpayer money to fund anything related to organizations and associations that promote divisive concepts.

That means, for instance, that the UT Memphis medical school, where I went, can’t send administrators and faculty to DEI conferences.

Taxpayers will no longer pay for DEI indoctrination.

They will only pay to improve the quality of education and educators themselves.

The law has many other important reforms.

The healthcare advocacy group Do No Harm found that DEI departments exist at virtually every Tennessee medical school, and they’re just as common at the broader universities. 

Gov. Bill Lee speaks during an interview with the media at Ridgedale Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Gov. Bill Lee speaks during an interview with the media at Ridgedale Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Schools like UT employ dozens of people whose job description is just DEI, giving them free rein to force their views on everyone else at the taxpayer’s expense.

No more.

DEI staff are now required to strengthen intellectual diversity, uphold the free exchange of ideas and focus on workforce development and career readiness for students.

If a taxpayer-funded university is going to have a DEI department, fine, but it’s going to help students more than it hurts them.

I’m proud of what my colleagues and I have accomplished.

But make no mistake: We’re just getting started.

Diversity, equity and inclusion is dug in deep at virtually every public college, university and graduate school in Tennessee and beyond, and it needs to be rooted out for the sake of students and taxpayers both.

I’m already talking with my fellow lawmakers about what we can do when we come back in session next year.

One thing’s certain: We won’t rest until we bring the highest standards back to higher education.

Joey Hensley represents District 28 in the Tennessee state Senate.

This story originally appeared on NYPost

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