NAACP believes FOCUS Act to be unfair to TSU

At NAACP community meeting (l-r): Ludye Wallace, Branch president; Grant Winrow, Special Assistant to the TSU president; Dr. Glenda Glover, TSU President; Dr. Tallulah Crawley-Shinault, Branch Recording Secretary        photo: Cass Teague

At NAACP community meeting (l-r): Ludye Wallace, Branch president; Grant Winrow, Special Assistant to the TSU president; Dr. Glenda Glover, TSU President;
Dr. Tallulah Crawley-Shinault, Branch Recording Secretary photo: Cass Teague

The NAACP Nashville Branch called for a community meeting recently to address the restructuring Plan proposed by Governor Haslam for state institutions of higher learning. The meeting was held at the Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center, 1035 14th Avenue North. The historic civil rights organization is concerned about how the plan will impact Tennessee State University and pit the institution against the University of Tennessee system and other state supported universities for funding.

Nashville NAACP President Ludye Wallace has stated that there is growing concern among community members whether or not the Governor’s plan will make it possible for TSU to be treated fairly and provide the university equal access to funding. Roughly two dozen people attended the hastily called meeting. Most had come to hear from TSU president Glenda Glover. Also scheduled to speak were members of the NAACP branch’s leadership and an organizer for the Campus Workers union.

The governor’s plan, part of the “Focus on College and University Success Act” that is currently making its way through the 2016 General Assembly legislative session has many provisions that are questionable to the group. Among them is a scheme to overhaul the state’s public higher education system by creating independent governing boards for the six regional state universities currently managed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Under the proposed plan, local boards at state universities Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Memphis State University, East Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University, and Austin Peay State University, would be able to set their own tuition rates and fees, and set educational and funding priorities independently of each other or of a State Board of Regents. The Regents would remain focused on community colleges and technical schools.

TSU President Glenda Glover has expressed numerous concerns about the legislation. They include the possibility of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville growing even stronger because it will be left intact while the TBR is dismantled; unnecessary duplication of programs; and probably most important, maintaining an equitable funding process.

“What will the funding formula look like?” Glover said to reporters after the House committee meeting. “The legislation only broadly describes it, but no formula is in place at this point. The (Tennessee) Board of Regents ensures balance. They do all they can to make the playing field fair. “

Despite her concerns, Glover said she’s still willing to work with the governor’s office to make the proposal less hurtful to TSU.

“We’ve been in contact with the governor’s office, and we’ve expressed concerns,” she said. “And to their credit, they’ve listened to quite a few of them. I have to be optimistic that we’ll continue to work with the governor’s office to work out the remaining differences.”

The FOCUS bill will have to pass finance committees in the House and Senate before reaching a full vote on the floors of both chambers. At press time, the legislation was scheduled to be heard in the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on March 9 at 10:30 a.m.; and at 2:30 p.m. in the Senate Education Committee on the same day.