A special Senate Higher Education Oversight Subcommittee hearing occurred last Thursday regarding student fees, tuition, and accreditation. The archived webcast of the hearing is available here. UT and TBR leaders answered questions about student activity fee allocation before the hearing moved on to questions involving tuition and accreditation.
The Associated Press covered the discussion of student fee allocations and produced the following news story:
By ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Members of special Senate panel on Thursday raised questions about University of Tennessee fees being used to pay for speakers at a student-initiated program about sex.
Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville suggested at hearing of the higher education subcommittee that students should be able to opt out of their fees being used to pay for events they find objectionable.
But Joe DiPietro, the president of the state’s flagship public university, responded that free speech protections require officials to remain neutral about the subjects that speakers want to address.
“While I may have personal views about some of those topics, I have a professional obligation to keep our university in a position that complies with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
Campfield cited one speech titled “Bow Chicka Bow WOAH!” and an event that he called a transgender “cross dressing show” as examples of having little redeeming quality.
“Now I that doesn’t mean I don’t support the First Amendment,” he said. “If someone wants to go dress up like a duck, God bless them. But I shouldn’t have to pay for that, should I?”
Campfield, who has sponsored failed legislative efforts to ban elementary and middle school teachers from addressing gay issues, said he also worried that underage children attending the university would have access to adult material.
DiPietro said the school analyzed enrollment figures at the time of Sex Week to find out how many students were under age 18.
“We determined there were six of them, out of 27,000 students,” he said. “I think we need to treat them as if they’re other students as well. Everyone is treated the same in that regard.”
In March, the university withdrew more than $11,000 in direct funding for Sex Week after some state lawmakers took issue with the program. But it said it was powerless to halt $6,700 in student fees being used to support the event. Students raised much of the lost direct funding back from private sources before the event was held in April.
DiPietro defended the overall objective of the event.
“It’s very important and very appropriate on a university campus to have some sex education going on,” he said. “If we prevent one unwanted pregnancy, if we prevent one sexual assault and prevent the transmission of a sexual disease among our students, it’s a benefit.”
Campfield said his concerns reach beyond the Sex Week event. He argued that few of the speakers paid for through student activities fees in recent years have addressed conservative issues.
DiPietro noted that the school’s college Republican group hasn’t applied for money to pay for outside speakers in the last three years.
“Organizations need to apply in order to gain or secure the funding,” he said.
Campfield appeared to want to press on about the issue before being cut off by fellow Republican Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald, the panel’s chairman.
“We’ve talked about it enough,” he said.