NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — At a Joint Government Operations Subcommittee hearing Monday morning, lawmakers voted unanimously to extend the Tennessee State University Board of Trustees for at least one more year.
It’s a stark reversal from last week when Republican leadership indicated it was in favor of changes for TSU leadership.
“From what I’ve seen, the problems that they’ve had there, I think changes are in order,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) told reporters last Thursday.
The extension comes after a scathing audit from the Comptroller of the Treasury resulted in serious findings, including that TSU increased its scholarship budget by nearly 350% from about $6.4 million to over $28 million from last school year to this one. That led to a 217% increase in housing demand.
That’s something the Comptroller says it did not have the money to do.
“The irrefutable fact is that on a day-to-day basis, the university is not a well-run organization,” Comptroller Jason Mumpower said.
Though TSU argued in front of the subcommittee that the Comptroller’s numbers don’t tell a complete story. The audit stated TSU budgeted roughly $6.4 million for scholarships.
But the state’s only publicly-funded HBCU argued that was only money from tuition and fees, while the fund for scholarships comes from a myriad of places, like CARES Funding (a COVID-19 relief package for higher education institutions) or food service charges.
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“[We increased] a lot, but it’s not out of line with the other universities on a percentage basis,” President Dr. Glenda Glover said. “Had they looked at this, as we were hoping they would, they would have seen this. But instead, they did not even care to do this.”
The comptroller recommended the General Assembly consider placing TSU under the state Board of Regents and to ‘vacate and reconstitute the board of trustees,’ in its audit, while also recommending a consideration of a change in leadership.
But in Monday’s committee hearing, Rep. Dale Carr (R-Sevierville), the subcommittee chair, acknowledged Glover’s work and asked her to stand and be recognized prior to the hearing.
The Comptroller’s recommendations have Democrats, TSU leadership and alumni saying this is a result of the state underfunding Tennessee’s only public HBCU for decades.
“TSU has experienced decades of underfunding,” Alumni Association President Charles Galbreath, Jr. said.
In 2021, it came out that the state had underfunded the HBCU by nearly $550 million over decades.
“If we had the money we were due, perhaps our buildings wouldn’t be falling down,” Board of Trustees member Obie McKenzie said, separately.
The unanimous vote to keep the board is not binding – it’s simply a recommendation to the full Government Operations Committees in the House and Senate.