Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.

September 21, 2021

It's Tuesday, otherwise known as day two of the Axios Nashville newsletter. We're far from the shallow now.

  • Today's weather: More rain is coming for us today, although drier and significantly cooler conditions are on the way.

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Today's newsletter is 922 words — a 3.5 minute read.

1 big thing: Fisk sees donations surge

Sign at the entrance of Fisk University

Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Fisk University raked in several seven-figure donations over the past few months. The institution's recent fundraising surge is "borderline miraculous," Fisk executive vice president Jens Frederiksen tells Axios.

Why it matters: Fisk is Nashville's oldest university, but has been on perilous financial footing for decades. As recently as 2010, officials said the university was on the brink of closing. The influx of cash could prove to be a turning point.

  • "The narrative that was coming out was one of constant trouble rather than success," Frederiksen said. "In many ways, that overshadowed what Fisk had always done best."

By the numbers: This month alone, the historically Black university announced two big-ticket donations, part of seven donations of $1 million or more the university has received over the past 12 months.

The big picture: Fisk's annual fundraising tally grew almost threefold, from $6.8 million in fiscal year 2017 to $19 million in 2021.

Between the lines: Historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs) saw an uptick in donations after a national wave of protests last year against systemic racism, although experts say they still lag behind.

Context: Fisk donations pale in comparison to many local universities. For example, Belmont University earlier this year announced it raised more than $326 million during a five-year donation drive.

  • Frederiksen acknowledged Fisk's fundraising needs to ramp up even more to meet its most urgent needs.
  • Continued enrollment growth, up to 938 students last year, is exacerbating the need for infrastructure improvements. That will require millions more in donations.

What they're saying: "It speaks to the perpetual challenge of these institutions, which is to talk up our successes while still acknowledging there are structural inequities that persist," Crystal de Gregory, a Fisk graduate and historian who studies HBCUs, tells Axios.

  • "These institutions deserve funding, they deserve support, they deserve windfalls."

2. COVID cases fall at Nashville public schools

Data: MNPS. Chart: Nate Rau/Axios
Data: MNPS. Chart: Nate Rau/Axios

Metro Nashville Public Schools saw a second consecutive week of declining COVID-19 cases, and a steep decline in students forced to quarantine due to close contacts. City leaders say the dropping case counts are a sign that the district's mandatory mask mandate is working.

Catch up quick: The start of the school year saw an explosion of COVID cases for MNPS, with Nashville in the middle of Tennessee's worst-in-the-nation outbreak.

  • Gov. Bill Lee refused to allow districts to offer virtual schooling, which about half of MNPS students opted for last year.
  • MNPS Director Adrienne Battle recommended a mask mandate with no opt-out provision, which was approved by the school board.
  • Lee responded with an executive order requiring school districts to allow students to opt out of wearing masks.

State of play: Battle and the Nashville school board doubled down, defying Lee's order and refusing to allow students to opt out. Advocates say Nashville's response is working.

  • There were 376 confirmed cases of COVID in the school district last week, down from 540 two weeks ago. Students forced to quarantine fell to 2,109, down from a peak of 3,895 students for the week ending Aug. 29.
  • While MNPS resisted allowing opt-outs, the district did survey parents asking if they would prefer to send their children to school without masks. 140 said yes, according to district spokesperson Sean Braisted.
  • For reference, there are about 70,000 MNPS students, not counting those enrolled in charter schools.

What they're saying: Battle told Axios that the district is "optimistic" about the trendline in cases, but added, "We must continue to remain vigilant in protecting ourselves and others from the virus."

3. Masks, party buses, bond deals on Metro Council agenda

A hot tub party bus in downtown Nashville

A hot tub party bus in downtown Nashville. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

  • Councilmember Sean Parker's bill making it illegal for passengers in motor vehicles to consume or possess an open container of alcohol will be considered for a crucial vote at tonight's council meeting. It’s one of two bills aimed at getting the city to regulate party buses, hot tubs, tractors, and other "transportainment" vehicles.
  • The second, Councilmember Freddie O'Connell’s far-reaching "transportainment" regulation ordinance, is also on the docket.
  • Council will consider a combined $1.28 billion in water and sewer revenue bonds — $500 million in new bonds to pay for capital improvements and $780 million in the refinancing of existing debt obligations.
  • Councilmember Joy Styles' bill to require masks in most indoor settings is also on the agenda.

4. The Setlist

Illustration of a concert-style poster reading "The Setlist, catch up quick, weekday mornings, the internet," and two silhouettes of the Nashville skyline, over a three-color gradient.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

📈 Vanderbilt University is adding new faculty positions in computer science to address tech sector trends. (Nashville Business Journal)

Gov. Lee joined a group of Republican governors asking for a meeting with President Biden to discuss border crossings. (The Tennessean)

Nashville Mayor John Cooper nominated Kelly Flannery as the city’s new finance director. Flannery previously served as chief financial officer for Charlotte. (The Tennessean)

5. 🍩 Doughnuts, I will always love you

Box of doughnuts and a cup of coffee.

Photo: Adam Tamburin/Axios

👋 Adam here! I ventured out in search of coffee earlier this month and stumbled upon the new Parlor Doughnuts location in Midtown.

  • The Indiana-based carb temple (with a coffee bar) recently opened new locations on West End Avenue and in the SoBro neighborhood.

The visit: The restaurant was bright and airy, and the service was swift. I was in and out in five minutes.,

  • The "layered doughnuts" on the menu are massive, flaky, and dusted with sugar. Think Five Daughters, not Krispy Kreme.
  • I couldn't resist and picked four flavors: Sandy Beach, Blueberry Hill, Reese's, and Raspberry Pistachio. Tasty all around, but I would not recommend eating more than one in a sitting.

The bottom line: Good coffee. Great doughnuts. But maybe don't get a four-pack unless you're sharing it.

Nate is listening to Allison Russell's great album "Outside Child" in honor of Americana Fest this week.

Adam is longing to return to the movie theater tonight for the 36th-anniversary celebration honoring his favorite pals and confidants, "The Golden Girls."