University of Tennessee revises memo about holiday parties

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The University of Tennessee's chancellor said Tuesday that an online memo advising employees to make sure holiday celebrations aren't Christmas parties in disguise was "poorly worded" and that oversight of the website where it was posted has been reassigned.

The memo "Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace" was posted on the school's website by its Office for Diversity and Inclusion. It said parties should celebrate workplace relationships with no emphasis on religion or culture.

UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said in a statement issued Tuesday that the original web posting has been replaced, "recognizing that the original version did not accurately convey our message."

The new posting reads, in part: "While it is inevitable that differences will appear in how people celebrate, everyone is encouraged to have an open mind and to approach every situation with sensitivity. We are grateful for the many people, cultures, and viewpoints of our campus. We should celebrate our diversity not only during the holidays but also on every day of the year."

Cheek said he met with Diversity and Inclusion Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall to discuss broad goals for diversity and inclusion, as well as determine actions to "prevent further poorly worded communications that deter from making progress on the goals."

Cheek also said oversight of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion's website has been reassigned to the school's vice chancellor for communications.

The original posting has been heavily criticized, especially by Republicans.

The diversity office "went too far in terms of telling adults how they should act at holiday parties," Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Monday.

"There's a role for them, and that includes making certain there's equal opportunity for people to attend UT and to graduate and have great outcomes," Haslam said. "In this case I think they went off into something they didn't need to be focused on."

The Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee has approved a resolution calling on the General Assembly to eliminate funding for the diversity office. Republican Rep. Micah Van Huss is proposing legislation to do so when state lawmakers return next month.

The office's 2015 budget was about $438,000, according to the university.

"Folks are upset that their taxpayer dollars are going to fund this kind of politically correct rhetoric," Huss, of Jonesborough, said Tuesday.

The school's Faculty Senate has said it supports Cheek's efforts to make the school more inclusive, and UT students held "study-ins" Tuesday to show their support.

UT President Joe DiPietro said he plans to talk with lawmakers who want to defund the school's diversity office.

"We'll always talk with elected officials about anything that's going to impact the university," he said. "We have every intention to be engaged in that conversation."

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