Tennessee lawmakers are dismantling the HBCU board of directors, much to the dismay of students and alumni

By | March 29, 2024

Black lawmakers, students and alumni of Tennessee State University are outraged that Governor Bill Lee signed into law a bill in an unprecedented move that dismantled the Black university’s historic board of trustees.

Calls for a new board began in 2023, after multiple audit reports highlighted concerns about mishandling of finances, housing and scholarships. A bill was then drafted that would replace three board members, before being amended to remove them all.

A new forensic audit covering July 2019 through June 2023 was released on Wednesday. It made dozens of recommendations and pointed to “flawed processes” but did not reveal any “fraud or malfeasance.” The next day, the Republican-controlled and majority-white Tennessee House voted in favor of the bill to dismantle the board, 66-25. Lee quickly signed it into law.

Lee said he was “pleased” with the appointments to a new board — all Black and prominent members of Nashville’s business and political community.

TSU President Glenda Glover will resign in June and a search is underway for her replacement.

Not everyone is happy with the way things are going.

Democratic Rep. Harold Love, a TSU alum, said ousting the entire board puts the school in motion at a time when the president is a lame duck.

“We are deeply concerned about the effect this will have on the board, the students and the direction the school is trying to take to address some of the concerns raised during the audits,” said Love.

Harold Love, Jr., speaks from the House floor against a bill to evict the entire board of trustees of Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee.  (George Walker IV/AP)Harold Love, Jr., speaks from the House floor against a bill to evict the entire board of trustees of Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee.  (George Walker IV/AP)

Harold Love, Jr., speaks from the House floor against a bill to evict the entire board of trustees of Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee. (George Walker IV/AP)

He added: “We had an amendment in the Government Operations (Committee) that removed three board members, and that was the amendment we thought would be on the bill. In the conversations, things didn’t go the way I think some members wanted, and that’s why they chose that route.”

Many students in the state of Tennessee are in turmoil and say the changes are too dramatic, leaving the school vulnerable to even more problems, Nashville’s WTVF reports. Additionally, students told the outlet that their opinions were not taken into account before the law was passed.

Supporters of Tennessee State University watch from the gallery as the House votes to evict the school's board of trustees in Nashville, Tennessee.  (George Walker IV/AP)Supporters of Tennessee State University watch from the gallery as the House votes to evict the school's board of trustees in Nashville, Tennessee.  (George Walker IV/AP)

Supporters of Tennessee State University watch from the gallery as the House votes to evict the school’s board of trustees in Nashville, Tennessee. (George Walker IV/AP)

Many students protested at the Capitol in Nashville on Thursday, holding a banner that read: “TSU Take Over.”

After the vote, House Majority Leader William Lamberth tried to downplay the new law.

“All we’re talking about is the board,” he said. “It means that some personalities are cleared and others are included. The goal is to make TSU successful.”

In leaving the board, members of the Tennessee Assembly did not appear to take into account that the TSU has been underfunded for years, to the tune of $2.1 billion, according to The Washington Post, which analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics between 1987 and 2010. 2020.

The audit found that the state of Tennessee owed $544 million in land grants over five decades; $250 million was allocated in April 2022.

Lee and Glover did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

“These are unprecedented, unfortunate and uncharted waters for every public university in the state,” said a statement from Tennessee State University, according to The Tennessean. “We believe this legislation will disrupt the educational activities of our students, damage the university’s image and remove an administration that has achieved success in improving TSU’s governance.” The statement also defended the university’s use of taxpayer dollars.

Last September, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack sent a letter to Lee highlighting data from the National Center for Education Statistics showing that white land-grant colleges were funded significantly more than historically black institutions for land grants.

The result was a “serious financial gap” in funding between the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, a land-grant institution founded in 1862, and the state of Tennessee, which “in the last thirty years alone” should have had access to another $2.1 billion. .

The Post also reported that black land-grant universities across the country faced a $12.6 billion funding disparity, with the worst cases at TSU and North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.

“It’s all disheartening,” said Ramona Willis, a retired teacher who graduated from Tennessee State in the 1970s. “They are withholding billions of dollars from the school, but they still want to remove the board? Could some of the problems be because we just didn’t have enough money, money that’s out there that should be ours? It is difficult to accept that they know this and yet ignore it and bring our school into disarray.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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