Lawmakers look for compromise on vacating Tennessee State University’s board

Published 3:15 pm Thursday, February 15, 2024

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By Sam Stockard

Tennessee Lookout

Tennessee lawmakers are working on a compromise to soften the blow in a looming vote to vacate Tennessee State University’s Board of Directors amid criticism over the historically Black College’s operations.

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Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, said Monday legislators are trying to reach an agreement in which a smaller number of the governor-appointed board members could be removed, if the vacate legislation passes. Of the board’s 10 members, eight receive gubernatorial appointments.

“If you vacate and remove all eight members, then you don’t have any institutional memory from the board members,” Love said, adding to deal with the problems pointed out in a comptroller’s report, someone with knowledge of the situation should remain on the board.

Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower last year recommended a change in leadership at TSU, replacement of the TSU Board of Trustees and renewed oversight by the Tennessee Board of Regents even though his office found no financial wrongdoing by TSU in the state’s regular audit. The Comptroller’s Office undertook a $2 million audit of the university, in addition to the regular audit, after questions were raised about TSU’s scholarships – which increased from $6.4 million to $28.3 million – and whether students received all the money they thought was due to them.

Historically Black universities saw a renaissance in enrollment in 2022, with TSU’s freshman class containing 1,600 more students than the year before. The increase forced the university to make a last-minute request for extra hotels to house them. The university’s audit also had several findings that had been repeated for years and caught the eyes of the Comptroller’s Office.

On Monday, lawmakers on the House Higher Education Subcommittee postponed a vote on a bill that would have put the university under control of  Tennessee Higher Education Commission. That measure is seen as alternative option if state lawmakers don’t go forward with the bill to get rid of most of the board. Last week, a Senate committee voted to vacate the entire board, except for the student and faculty members.

But things are moving slower in the House, where Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said last week “productive” talks are taking place that could change the bill’s outcome. Those discussions include TSU President Glenda Glover and Gov. Bill Lee, Sexton confirmed.

Glover is set to retire from TSU at the end of June amid a year and a half of complaints about the university’s handling of the housing crunch and student scholarship situation.

Despite Glover stepping down Republican lawmakers still want more changes, drawing criticism from Democrats who say it would be “catastrophic.”