Sep 21, 2023 - News

TSU president weighs in on funding shortfall

Photo: Courtesy of Tennessee State University

Tennessee State University president Glenda Glover is calling on the state to "do what's right" by addressing a $2.1 billion shortfall in funding for the institution that the Biden administration identified.

Driving the news: Top officials with the federal departments of Education and Agriculture sent a letter to Gov. Bill Lee this week that found the "severe financial gap" in state funding for TSU over the last 30 years.

  • "The longstanding and ongoing underinvestment in Tennessee State University disadvantages the students, faculty, and community that the institution serves," the letter read.
  • "This is a situation that clearly predates all of us. However, it is a problem that we can work together to solve. In fact, it is our hope that we can collaborate to avoid burdensome and costly litigation that has occurred in several states."

Why it matters: The federal analysis found that TSU received less per-student funding than the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, even though federal law requires equitable funding.

  • The Biden administration said the extra money could have bolstered student services and infrastructure and would have better positioned TSU to compete for research grants.
  • This is not just a problem in Tennessee. Similar letters sent to 15 other governors identified long-term funding disparities at state-run historically black colleges and universities.

Catch up quick: In February, Republican lawmakers slammed the school's president after a report from the comptroller stated that poor leadership had exacerbated an on-campus housing crisis.

What she's saying: Glover tells Axios the federal government's assessment of TSU's enormous financial disadvantage recasts that criticism. She says missing out on state funding is the underlying problem, not university leadership.

  • "You can look at the challenges that TSU has faced over the years, those challenges would have gone away with $2.1 billion," she says, adding that funding would allow for more staff, new scholarship programs and ambitious construction projects.
  • "We're doing the work of TSU that's required without the funding."

Flashback: A 2021 state analysis found TSU had been underfunded $150 million to $544 million for its food and agriculture research. Lee followed that up with $250 million for the university in his 2022 budget.

  • State Rep. Harold Love (D-Nashville), who chaired the committee that looked into that issue, tells Axios that is a recent example of the state responding quickly to help TSU.
  • He said officials could use "the same pathway" to address the federal analysis. He was hopeful the federal report would be "a springboard" for another influx of funding.

State of play: In a statement, a spokesperson for the governor said Lee "has proposed significant funding for TSU every year," including the $250 million in 2022. The statement said direct appropriations to TSU had grown by 43% since Lee took office.

  • "Gov. Lee remains committed to working with legislative partners and community leaders to support the success of TSU and HBCUs across Tennessee."

What's next: Glover, who is retiring at the end of the academic year, says confronting this shortfall will be a top priority during her final days on the job.

  • "I want us to have a meeting, have a conversation and go over this. We can't sweep this under the rug."
  • "It's never too late to do what's right. So let's do what's right and get the job done."

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