A Win in Tennessee for Equal Opportunity

The fight to protect equal opportunity in higher education marked a victory in Tennessee with the recent defeat of Senate Bill 8 (S.B. 8) in the state legislature.

Tennessee State Senator Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) introduced the anti-equal opportunity bill, which was backed by Ward Connerly, a longtime opponent of equal opportunity measures. On February 27, the bill failed to obtain the five votes necessary to move past the State Senate Education Committee (4 Ayes, 2 Nays, 3 Abstentions).

Like similar Connerly-sponsored legislation around the nation, Tennessee’s S.B. 8 sought to ban affirmative action practices that consider of race, gender or ethnicity as one of many factors in the admissions process of public colleges and universities as well as in the hiring of K-12 teachers. All entities of state government would also be prohibited from keeping statistics on race, gender or ethnicity, except as required by federal law.

Many members of the higher education community expressed concerns regarding S.B. 8’s vague language and potential unintended consequences. The ACLU of Tennessee, the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, and other civil rights organizations also worked to educate legislators about the bill’s negative consequences. “We are fighting fights that we thought we were finished fighting,” said Gloria Sweet-Love, president and director of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP. “I cannot fathom why a legislator would believe that something that divides people in the state would be good for the state.”

“The defeat of this legislation will ensure that women and minorities continue to have equal access to higher education and employment opportunities in Tennessee,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee. “This victory is being celebrated across the state by civil liberties and civil rights advocates, educators, and other concerned Tennesseans, all of whom took a stand against this bill in support of fairness and equal opportunity, keeping Tennessee moving forward.”