Divisive Concepts Law
In 2022, Tennessee enacted a law known as the Divisive Concepts statue. The original law is codified in Tennessee Code Annotated Sections 49-7-1901 et seq. In the 2023 legislative session, Governor Lee signed into law Public Chapter No. 268, an amendment to the original Divisive Concepts statute.
In the interest of keeping the UT community informed and supported, we have created this site to provide information about the legislation.
- Our Principles
- Summary of Legislative Process
- University Actions on the 2022 Legislation
- Summary of 2023 Legislation
- Report Concerns
We will protect our faculty’s academic freedom.
All faculty—tenured, pretenure, and non–tenure track—have the right to teach, research, create, and perform about their knowledge and understanding in their discipline. This academic freedom persists even when faculty members hold a minority view within their discipline and when others in and beyond the institution find their views contrary or objectionable.
We believe that viewpoint diversity and debate are essential to a UT education.
A true university education is one in which students hear, study, and discuss ideas that challenge their thinking and encourage them to consider points of view different from their own. Students should expect to hear ideas that make them uncomfortable, should be able to explain and master concepts they disagree with, and should feel free to take opposing views as part of civil academic discourse. We remind all members of the campus community that the Campus Free Speech Protection Act—signed into state law in 2017—applies to everyone. The act endorses the fundamental responsibility of the university by defining what we are not to do: “It is not the proper role of an institution to attempt to shield individuals from free speech, including ideas and opinions they find offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed.” These principles are recognized in the Board of Trustees Policy Affirming Principles of Free Speech for Students and Faculty (BT0010). At the beginning of each academic year, we remind the campus community of the importance of fulfilling the letter and spirit of this act.
We are committed to diversity and engagement.
We support our diversity and engagement work to make sure everyone in our community knows they matter and belong.
We want a culture of respect and open dialogue on campus.
We ask every member of our community—faculty, staff, and students—to show respect for one another when they discuss ideas and opinions that are different from their own.
Summary of Legislative Process
2022 Legislative Session
The Tennessee General Assembly passed the Senate version of the bill, SB2290, on March 28, 2022. The statute defines a list of “divisive concepts” and prohibits mandatory training regarding these concepts, and prohibits taking certain adverse actions against students and employees based on their beliefs about these concepts. The law went into effect on April 8, 2022 when the governor signed the bill. View the Public Chapter.
2023 Legislative Session
On April 14, 2023, an amended version of Senate Bill SB0817 passed that includes additional provisions to the state law. University leadership secured the removal of multiple requirements from the original bill. The measure was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee with an effective date of July 1, 2023.
The amended version of SB0817 does not change the state law’s recognition of academic freedom and First Amendment protections, state and federal requirements to train students and employees on nondiscrimination, need to maintain compliance with academic accreditation standards, that classroom instruction is not mandatory training, or that the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work can continue.
University Actions on the 2022 Legislation
University leadership worked to secure and maintain critical exemptions included in the 2022 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.
Summary of 2023 Legislation
SB0817, as amended, made the following changes:
- Reporting: States that a student or employee may file a report alleging a violation, requires the university to investigate complaints, and to provide an annual report of complaints. Reports of alleged violations can be made using the e-mail address linked below.
- Events: Includes requirements related to use of institutional property for events and speakers. Existing University policies appear to comply with these requirements, and Board Policy BT0010 is being updated to assure that it includes the most recent statutory language.
- DEI staff: Requires certain DEI staff positions to promote a climate of free and respectful exchange of ideas and to support student academic achievement and workforce readiness. These responsibilities are consistent with the institution’s DEI staff roles, and can be added as needed. Compliance-oriented roles are exempt from this requirement.
- State Funds: Prohibits use of state funds for fees, dues, subscriptions, or travel in conjunction with the membership, meetings, or activities of an organization if participation in such organization requires an individual, or an individual’s employer, to endorse or promote a divisive concept as defined in state law. The institution is not aware of organizations that require endorsement of a divisive concept as defined in state law.
- Hiring and admissions: States that public higher education institutions shall not require an applicant for employment or admission to submit a personal diversity statement or to affirm the applicant’s agreement with an institutional diversity statement as part of the application or admissions process. Each campus’s hiring officials, including departments, will need to ensure diversity statements are not required of applicants.
- Notification and training: The legislation includes requirements on notifying students and employees of the state law and providing non-mandatory training to employees about the law. Notification and training will be managed through existing channels and resources.
Faculty and staff do important work, including work that addresses challenging topics, and we are here to support you in that work. If you have questions or needs, contact your provost’s office.
Report Divisive Concepts Concerns