June 23, 2024

Senate bills restricting funds for student programming to be voted on next week

Two contemporary bills were introduced by members of state congress that would regulate school revenue. Senate Bill 1608 requires student fees to be proportionally distributed to school organizations based on membership and Senate Bill 2493 prohibits use of institutional revenue to pay for guest speakers.

SB 1608 is set to be voted on next week.

State Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), Reps. Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir City) and Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet) proposed the bills in early Feb.

Currently, funds designated for programming are distributed by the University Programs and Services Fee Allocation Board. The money for USPF comes out of each student’s tuition.

“Each year that is chaired by the student government president with seven other student appointments and they work with different members of our faculty,” said SGA President Jake Baker. “We just look to see if it meets certain criteria, if it benefits the campus, if it’s a good use of student fee money.”

The passing of either bill will have drastic effects on student programming, like reducing funding for guest speakers. If SB 1608 passes, funds for programming will be allocated according to an organization’s membership size.

“They’re not going to look at the facts of the event at all, it’s just how many people are involved with the organization requesting money,” Baker said.

There are more than 400 student organizations both big and small on campus.

“I don’t think you can base the quality of an event based on the membership of an organization,” said Baker. “All organizations do bring a lot to our campus and we wouldn’t want to see them be negatively impacted by this bill.”

UT’s BOSS Dance Company, which has over 100 members and 65 dancers, is considered a small organization. Their primary source for contribtuions is from a USPF grant. If SB 1608 passes, they are likely to lose funding for events, such as the annual BOSS Company Spring Showcase.

“If we lose our grant funding, we will not be able to have our showcase in the Clarence Brown Theater, if at all,” said Caitlin Shu, BOSS Dance Company secretary. The grant also supports their studio space in AMB, invitations to alumni and pays for outside choreographers who teach technique classes for the showcase.

Shu thinks quality of student programming will be drastically affected and the reduction of funds will hinder organization growth. In the last three years, Boss has more than doubled in size.

“I speak for many other student organizations when I say the Senate Bills 1608 and 2493 will be detrimental to the culture of UT. It’s simply not fair that politicians who don’t attend the university on a daily basis are trying to tell the students how their money is allowed to be spent,” said Shu. “The presence of art and culture is necessary in any university environment, and hopefully the lawmakers will realize this before it’s too late.”

Campfield was scheduled to speak about the legislation at the UC Auditorium but withdrew on Feb. 21. The event was hosted by UT College Democrats.

“We had got College Republicans involved with us because we wanted to make sure that this was a fair event,” said Joshua Stovall, president of UT College Democrats. “It was just supposed to be an informative evening for students to know about the current legislation that can affect them and hear from the representative that brought it forward.”

According to Stovall, Campfield was given a list of 18 questions by the College Democrats before the event, but refused answer eight of them. The questions included: How do you define membership, What would it take from your constituents to change your mind on this piece of legislation and what is you level of community involvement?

“He didn’t want to answer those,” said Stovall.

SGA has responded to the legislation with two petitions rejecting the bills. One petition, open to student, faculty and staff, has more than 2,000 signatures. The other petition, open to the public via Change.org, has 590 signatures.

The Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities, a for-profit, privately held national campus activities organization, is also interested in fighting these bills.

Eric Lambert, executive director for APCA, believes the proposed funding policy is “an unconstitutional assault on student freedom of speech, and violates the rights of students to decide their own events paid for by their own student activities funds.”

Lambert cited the Supreme Court’s Southworth decision in 2000, which declared that universities may use funds for campus groups that provide a neutral viewpoint. He believes the bill will create a barrier to minority opinions and their ability to hold relevant events and restrict unpopular speech.

“We feel these policies are best left to schools, not state government legislators,” Lambert said.

APCA services the needs of Campus Programming Departments, SGA’s leadership development programs and other campus organizations throughout the United States. Lambert hopes both bills will die before being brought to the floor and urges students to get involved.

“Let your voice be heard in your state congress.  The state legislators can be reached via email as handy as your cell phone,” Lambert said. “Tell them how you feel about this.”



Edited by Nichole Stevens