KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An online memo advising employees at the University of Tennessee to make sure holiday celebrations aren't Christmas parties "in disguise" has put school officials under fire.
The memo "Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace" has been posted on the school's website by its Office for Diversity and Inclusion. It says parties should celebrate workplace relationships with no emphasis on religion or culture.
It also says holiday celebrations should not play games with religious themes such as Secret Santa, and the selection of decor and refreshments should be "general, not specific to any religion or culture."
"Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise," the memo says.
On Thursday, Republican U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan appeared on Fox News and called the post an example of political correctness run amok. Meanwhile, Republican state Sens. Delores Gresham and Mike Bell issued a joint statement calling on Chancellor Jimmy Cheek to resign.
"The Office of Diversity is not welcoming to all and hostile to none as they claim," Gresham said in the statement. "They are very hostile to students and other Tennesseans with Christian and conservative values. By placing a virtual religious test regarding holiday events at this campus, every student who is a Christian is penalized."
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion defended itself, saying the school is a diverse campus that is not anti-Christmas but is pro-inclusion. In the statement posted on the school's website Thursday, Cheek said efforts to be inclusive have been misconstrued.
"First let me say that we honor Christmas as one of the celebrations of the season. We are in no way trying to dismiss this very important Christian holiday," Cheek's statement said.
On Friday, school spokeswoman Karen Ann Simsen said Cheek would not be addressing calls for his resignation. In a statement, university president Joe DiPietro said he respects the comments from the lawmakers while defending Cheek's performance, including increased retention and graduation rates, facility improvements and growing research productivity.
DiPietro also said he is consulting with the board of trustees and seeking input from faculty, staff and students as he considers "any decision with the potential to impact the stability and momentum of our State's flagship institution."
Earlier this year, the university received criticism after the Office for Diversity and Inclusion asked students and faculty to use gender-neutral pronouns such as "ze" in order to create a more inclusive campus. Officials had said the suggestion was aimed to be welcoming of the transgender population. The suggestion was later removed from the website.