The president of the University of Tennessee system will highlight its stronger financials and increasing graduation rates at the annual State of UT address today.
Joe DiPietro will also reiterate that the school is "committed to diversity and inclusion," he said last week.
That's a topic that has been a bit of a lightning rod with conservative lawmakers in recent years. They have repeatedly berated the Knoxville campus for funding sexual awareness programming, and they de-funded its diversity office last year after it wrote a blog post advocating for gender-neutral pronouns and religion-neutral holiday terms.
This month, when one lawmaker filed a bill that would require public colleges to create a free speech policy, he strongly implied that UT was not welcoming of conservative viewpoints.
So if system president Joe DiPietro wants to push diversity initiatives, how can he first de-escalate tension at the legislature?
"Number one, don't stop talking," he said. "Number two, keep your patience. Number three, try to keep making them understand why this is important and why we are not drifting one direction or not on the liberal/conservative pendulum."
DiPietro says he tries to convince lawmakers that employers want students who are exposed to different cultures.
Meanwhile, he also will point out that the UT system has kept tuition increases to a minimum, and its flagship campus in Knoxville has seen a consistent rise in students graduating within four years.