Sen. Stacey Campfield said Monday he is dropping efforts to put new restrictions on University of Tennessee student fees – through bills inspired by controversy over UT Sex Week — because of steps UT officials have pledged to take voluntarily.
Campfield cited a letter, dated Friday, from UT President Joe DiPietro to House Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and two other legislators. Based on the letter an comment from UT officials in conversations with him, the senator said he understands that UT has agreed to make payment of student fees that go to pay for some events optional rather than mandatory.
The DiPietro letter says UT administrators and trustees “will begin immediately” to address concerns in a SJR626, a resolution condemning UT Sex Week approved earlier by the Senate.
“I believe the result of our efforts will be a more transparent student activity fee system that respects the First Amendment right of student organizations to engage in a free and open exchange of ideas but also provides individual students the right not to fund student organization expression that is offensive to their personal beliefs,” says the letter.
“I trust that no further legislative or budgetary action will be taken with respect to this matter. Thank you again for the spirit of cooperation and trust with which you have worked with us,” says the letter to the speakers and Sens. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville.
“I had told them, ‘If you agree to these things publicly, then I’ll back off’,” Campfield said in an interview. “The opt out was the key to me. That’s what I wanted all along… I’m happy UT is going to do that and I will general sub the bills.”
Placing a bill in “general sub” generally means no attempt at passage will be made.
Campfield had two bills on students fees. One of them (SB1608) declared that distribution of student fee monies to campus organizations must be based proportionately on membership size of the organizations, a move that some contended would be unfair to small organizations – likely leaving some without funding. The other (SB2493) provided that no student fees would go to pay for speakers on campus.
Both bills were scheduled for a vote in the Senate Education Committee on Monday, but the panel ran out of time before getting to them. Campfield said they now be placed in “general sub” with no further consideration.
SJR626 was approved earlier by the Senate, though not yet by the House. The House had earlier adopted a resolution condemning UT Sex Week that has never been considered by the Senate. Both were filed as “joint” resolutions, meaning they are supposed to be approved by both chambers.
The Senate resolution denounces UT Sex Week and says UT administrators and trustees are “directed” to develop new student fee policies including that give students notice of organizations and events funded and an option on whether to a portion of the student’s fees are authorized for such uses.
UT spokeswoman Gina Stafford said DiPietro sent the letter “to formally acknowledge the spirit in which the members listed worked with him and the University in addressing concerns of members of the General Assembly around matters related to student activity fees.”
“The letter notes the University’s compliance, as was already agreed to, with SJR 626 which addressed establishing policy by which individual students would have options not to fund student organization expression if they choose,” she said.