The University of Tennessee board of trustees ended its two-day summer meeting by approving the system’s nearly $2 billion budget that includes a 6 percent tuition increase, some new student fees, and pay raises for faculty and staff, reports the News Sentinel. But not without a lot of discussion and even some debate — especially about the proposed tuition increase.
Trustee Crawford Gallimore said he hopes the system is able to demonstrate to taxpayers that “raising tuition is the last resort … and not as just a matter of course that we do every year.”
Student trustee Shalin Shah said he believed students would pay the increase if they understood the reasons for it.
“We have to make the message simple and we have to put it out there,”‘ Shah said. “We’re the Twitter generation, we have to keep it to 42 words or less otherwise we’re not going to get it. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”
Trustee Doug Horne proposed a 3 percent tuition increase, saying the trustees should try to show that they “deserve” additional funds from the state.
“I personally feel like we should show a little bit more initiative here and not raise tuition this much,” he said. “I’ve expressed this to the president. I think we show the students first and the Legislature second that we’re putting our best foot forward to making a monumental effort to not raise tuition this much. I’d personally like to raise it none.”
But other board members said they had already agreed to the figure.
“The 6 percent is somewhat of a studied, evaluated and compromised number,” said Don Stansberry, the board’s vice chairman. “It was worked out in cooperation with the governor, Legislature, administration and university officials. It does weigh the interests of the students and it weighs the interests of the institutions.”
The University of Tennessee has fired the director of the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and hired a local lawyer to investigate whether she had improper relationships with student-athletes, reports the News Sentinel.
Jenny Wright, an office employee since 2008, tried to step down from her position Thursday, but UT refused to accept her resignation. Instead, Provost Susan Martin sent Wright a pre-termination letter Friday.
“Based on information we have received to date, and based on your refusal to cooperate in an investigation into allegations regarding your actions, the university has reason to believe that grounds exist to terminate your employment for unsatisfactory work-related behavior,” Martin wrote in an email Friday.
Wright was given the chance to meet Monday to discuss her status, but she did not show up, documents show. Martin sent another letter Monday informing Wright that she was fired.
The university began looking into accusations of improper behavior before hiring Beecher Bartlett,a Knoxville attorney with a background in employment cases, last week.
UT declined to release any documents related to the probe while it’s ongoing. Bartlett also declined to give any details about the accusations, how many students may be involved and how the officials first learned of the alleged behavior.
Reversing a previous vote, the state Senate decided Thursday that college student identification cards will remain invalid for voting in Tennessee.
The House and Senate had adopted conflicting positions on the issue posed as part of SB125. The Senate last month voted to authorize college student ID for voting, but the House then voted to strip that provision out of the bill.
The bill returned to the Senate Thursday and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, sponsor of the bill, made the motion to go along with the House version that rejects student ID for voting.
The vote to adopt the House bill was 23-7. That sends the bill to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for his signature.
When the bill was originally before the Senate, Ketron supported the idea of making college ID valid. He said the Tennessee law requiring photo ID for voting is patterned after Indiana’s law, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Indiana law permits college student ID, Ketron said at the time, and to assure Tennessee’s law can withstand any court challenges, it should do the same.
Legislation to cut welfare benefits of parents with children performing poorly in school has cleared committees of both the House and Senate after being revised to give the parents several ways to avoid the reductions.
The state Department of Human Services, which worked with Republican sponsors to draft the changes, withdrew its previous opposition to SB132. But the measure was still criticized by Democrats, including Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.
As amended, it would not apply when a child has a handicap or learning disability or when the parent takes steps to try improving the youngster’s school performance — such as signing up for a “parenting class,” arranging a tutoring program or attending a parent-teacher conference.
Dennis told the House Health Subcommittee the measure now only applies to “parents who do nothing.” He described the measure as “a carrot and stick approach.”
Johnson, a teacher, said the bill will still put “the burden of the family budget on children’s performance in school” and that would mean a “huge stress on a young person who is trying to do what he can.”
The House and Senate may be on a collision course over whether college student identification cards should be used in voting.
The Senate approved a bill last week to authorize the use of student ID cards issued by state colleges and universities. But the House Local Government committee rejected the provision Tuesday by adopting an amendment deleting it from HB229, companion bill to the Senate-passed measure.
In the House version, that leaves only provisions – also in the Senate bill – that prohibit the use for voting purposes of Memphis library cards and out-of-state photo identification.
The House committee deleted the college ID provision at the urging of Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, on a straight party-line voice vote. All Democrats on the panel had themselves recorded as voting no, leaving all Republicans voting yes. The bill itself was then approved on the same basis.
Discussion in the committee followed the same lines as earlier in the Senate, where an attempt by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, to delete the college student ID section was defeated. Durham said the college student ID can be “made up” and would put as risk the integrity of the voting system.
Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, challenged Durham to provide a single case of a college student ID being used to cast a vote improperly during “the 100-plus years” that college ID was valid for voting prior to enactment of the current law in 2001. Durham did not do so.
The Wednesday vote could put the bill on the House floor by next week. The House and Senate must agree on all details of a bill before it can achieve final passage. If the two chambers differ, a conference committee can be appointed to try and reach an agreement.
Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet, sponsor of the bill in the House, said she told the Senate sponsor, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, that House GOP colleagues did not like the college ID provision. She said he was “OK” with amending out the provision for now in the House.
The Senate approved Thursday a bill that will make college student identification cards valid for voting despite Sen. Stacey Campfield’s contention that senators were “gutting” the protections against voter fraud in current law.
The bill by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron was approved on a 21-8 vote and now goes to the House, where it faces a committee vote.
Besides legalizing college student ID for voting, the bill also prohibits use of library cards issued by the City of Memphis. The state Court of Appeals has ruled the Memphis cards are valid for voting and the state Supreme Court is considering an appeal of that decision, though it issued a temporary order last fall allowing the cards to be used in the November, 2012, election.
The eight no votes on the bill (SB125) included Campfield and four other Republicans who objected to the college ID provision and three Democrats who objected to the Memphis library card prohibition.
Ketron said the bill includes both provisions to imitate, as closely as practical, the voter ID law of Indiana, which has been upheld as valid in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Some supporters of the photo ID law have voiced concern that forbidding use of college student ID issued by a state university while allowing other forms of state-issued ID could be successfully challenged in court.
A Senate vote on legislation that makes college student identification cards valid for voting was halted Thursday after Sen. Stacey Campfield raised objections, saying the cards can be easily faked and are issued to people who are not citizens of the United States.
“They’re easy to forge,” said Campfield in Senate floor debate. “Possibly, in my younger days I might have known a person or two myself who had a falsified college ID.”
Even a valid college ID, Campfield said, opens a door for fraudulent voting since foreign students can get them.
“You don’t even have to be a resident of this country to be get a college ID,” said Campfield, a Knoxville Republican whose district includes part of the University of Tennessee campus.
A vote on the bill (SB125) was postponed until next Thursday by the sponsor, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, after Campfield’s critical questioning of the measure, which makes several revisions to the state’s law requiring a photo ID issued by the state or federal government for voting.
The University of Tennessee board of trustees tentatively approved plan Wednesday that would charge future full-time students for an additional three hours each semester at the Knoxville campus, reports the News Sentinel.
The new charges will begin with freshmen next year. Following an hourlong discussion, the plan to charge full-time students for 15 credit hours unanimously passed out of committee and will go before the full board of trustees, including Gov. Bill Haslam, today.
“There’s got to be a financial incentive, and there’s got to be courses available, and there’s got to be the expectation to graduate in four years,” Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said during the committee meeting, held on the agriculture campus. “We cannot become a top-25 public research university if we do not graduate classes. Quite frankly, we’ve got to have a game-changer, and we think this is a game-changer.”
Current students, who will not be affected by the proposal, pay by the credit hour until they hit 12 hours, the threshold for full-time status. The proposed new model would mean future students who take 12 or more credit hours would be required to pay for 15 credit hours.
Cheek touted the new model as a means of raising revenue, making tuition increases more predictable, encouraging students to graduate in four years, lowering student debt and allowing the university to serve more students without upping enrollment.
The Tennessee Board of Regents is questioning the logic of legislation that prevents public colleges from enforcing nondiscrimination rules on religious student groups, according to WPLN. The bill (SB3597) responds to an ongoing dispute at Vanderbilt University, even though private institutions are excluded. The legislation would prevent administrators from requiring student groups to drop faith requirements for membership or leadership positions, as Vanderbilt has done.
TBR Chancellor John Morgan says he doesn’t know exactly how the proposed law would affect MTSU, Austin Peay or Tennessee Tech, but he doesn’t see a need.
“Far as I know, that has not been an issue at any of the public institutions in Tennessee, yet we’re going to pass a law that only applies to public institutions? It’s hard for me to understand that.”
A summary of the bill – which was scheduled for a Senate vote Monday night (but was postponed until next week) – says religious student organizations would be allowed to choose leaders who are committed to their mission and that no higher education institution could deny recognition of a group because of the religious content of their speech.
Teachers and lobbyists who default on student loans could lose the right to practice their professions under legislation winning final approval in the state House Thursday.
Several legislators, most of the Democrats, voiced objections to the bill (SB551) in an hour-long debate before it passed 70-24. The measure cleared the Senate last year and now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.
Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, sponsor of the bill, said most other professionals who have state-issued licenses are already subject to losing those licenses for failure to pay student loans and it is appropriate to add teachers, lobbyists and sports agents to the list.
Loan defaults effectively reduce the amount of money available for loans to new students through the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC), Sargent said, the legislation adds a needed tool to prod debtors into making payments. He said “about 7 or 8 percent” of TSAC loans are in default now and if the number rose too much, the entire program could be jeopardized.
“‘I’m just trying to preserve TSAC for the children of the future,” Sargent said.
Criticism came on several fronts.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said the bill sends the wrong message to teachers already facing ample problems. It means, he said, “You would be able to take a teacher out of a classroom because he or she, because of tough times, has become delinquent on a student loan.”
Rep. Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, said the measure was unfair to lobbyists and perhaps unconstitutional.
Lobbyists are paid to assert the constitutional right of clients to petition government for “redress of grievances,” Kernell said, and taking away that right for an unrelated debt would be wrong.
“Of course, people think lobbyists are too powerful,” he said. “But they are still a constitutionally-protected group.”
Lobbyists are not licensed by the state, but must register with the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance and pay a fee for each client. They would lose their registration rights under the bill.
Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, said some “unscrupulous businesses that call themselves schools” charge exorbitant fees that lead to employment in professions with low pay that makes it difficult or impossible to repay loans.
“Some of our most vulnerable citizens are being sold a bill of goods,” said Odom.
Other legislators said those who make student loans already have adequate means of collecting their debts through the courts with garnishment of wages. Those who have lost their jobs and have no wages would be further harmed by losing their state licenses, some said.
Sargent said TSAC and other lenders, under terms of the bill, can adjust payments to reflect ability to pay even minimal amounts and would otherwise “work with them” to avoid revoking a license in hardship cases.