Oct 4, 2023 - News

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump discusses legal options following Tennessee State University underfunding

Ben Crump

Ben Crump. Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for National Urban League

During a visit to Tennessee State University on Tuesday, civil rights attorney Ben Crump floated the possibility of legal action if state lawmakers don't address a federal analysis showing the school had been underfunded by $2.1 billion.

  • The analysis found "a severe financial gap" at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country.

Driving the news: Crump told reporters he came to TSU to meet with students and discuss their legal options regarding the funding shortfall. He mentioned that students at an HBCU in Florida sued over underfunding.

  • But he indicated the first step would be to push Tennessee's General Assembly to resolve the problem.

Catch up quick: Federal law requires that states fund their public land-grant institutions equitably. But federal officials said last month that TSU and many other public HBCUs did not get as much funding per student compared to their predominantly white peer institutions.

  • The analysis found Tennessee's two land grant institutions — TSU and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville — had gotten lopsided state funding.
  • Because TSU got less per student, the officials said, it missed out on opportunities to add staff, improve campus infrastructure and compete for research grants.

What he's saying: Crump said it was important to "challenge every legislature in every state" to address the deficits uncovered by the federal review.

  • "Hopefully, preferably, they will address it. However, these students wanted to know their legal options."
  • "Whether we will bring legal action as students in Florida have done is really up to the legislature."

Flashback: Gov. Bill Lee and lawmakers previously addressed a different funding shortfall at TSU with a historic influx of money in 2022. TSU students said they were hopeful state leaders would come together in a similar way this time.

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