Tennessee House votes to vacate Tennessee State U board

March 29, 2024

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Tennessee House Republicans voted to vacate the entire board of Tennessee State University on Thursday, reversing a previous deal reached in committee with House Democrats to keep three of the 10 board members in place for continuity, The Tennessean reported. The bill now awaits Governor Bill Lee’s signature. Lee would be responsible for appointing new board members.

Republican lawmakers have been seeking to oust the historically Black university’s board after it received a harsh state audit last year that concluded the institution needed a leadership change. The state comptroller’s report criticized the institution for creating a boom in enrollment by expanding scholarships without having enough student housing to accommodate the influx, among other issues.

A $2-million external forensic audit commissioned by state lawmakers, released on Thursday, raised these same concerns, notably a 250 percent increase in scholarships, but found no fraud or malfeasance at the university, The Tennessean reported.

Tennessee House Democrats and university leaders have argued that the university is woefully underfunded by the state which has exacerbated its problems. Tennessee underfunded the university by $2.1 billion over three decades, the largest amount owed to HBCUs by any state, according to recent data provided by the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Agriculture.

“This is unprecedented, unfortunate, and uncharted waters for any public university in the state,” a statement from Tennessee State University read. “We believe this legislation will disrupt our students’ educational pursuits, harm the image of the University, and remove a Board that had achieved success in its enhanced governance of TSU.”

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