HBCU Board Controversy in Tennessee

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Photo by Sebastian Pichler

Tennessee State University (TSU), the state’s only public historically Black college, has found itself at the center of controversy as Republican lawmakers in Tennessee voted to replace its board of trustees, citing financial mismanagement. 

Despite being underfunded for years, the move has sparked concerns of unfair targeting by predominantly White state leaders.

Republican Governor Bill Lee signed the bill into law, resulting in the immediate removal of the 10-member board and the appointment of new trustees. 

This decision came after audits highlighted financial challenges at TSU, though a recent forensic audit found no evidence of fraud. However, a report from the state comptroller’s office revealed issues with federal program compliance, suggesting that proper funding could have mitigated TSU’s challenges.

Critics argue that TSU’s underfunding – evidenced by a $2.1 billion shortfall from 1987 to 2022 – compared to predominantly White institutions like the University of Tennessee, has exacerbated its difficulties. State Representative Justin Pearson highlighted disparities in funding between TSU and the University of Tennessee, suggesting systemic inequities.

Republicans claim that TSU misused funds and awarded excessive scholarships, resulting in students lacking housing and residing in hotels. These challenges came to light in 2022 when TSU accommodated a record number of first-year students, prompting the relocation of around 900 students to off-campus hotels.

Amidst these controversies, TSU is in pursuit of its next president, with current president Glenda Glover set to step down in June. Governor Lee assured continued commitment to serving TSU students, emphasizing the importance of the institution in Tennessee’s educational landscape.

The situation at TSU underscores broader issues of funding disparities and challenges facing historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the United States. As TSU navigates these challenges, the spotlight remains on ensuring equitable support and opportunities for its students.