University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro defended the Knoxville campus’s spring “Sex Week” program under critical questioning Thursday from state Sen. Stacey Campfield in a legislative hearing.
“In my professional opinion, it is very, very important on a university campus to have some sex education going on,” DiPietro told the Knoxville Republican at one point, adding that if a single unwanted pregnancy or sexual assault was prevented as a result, that would justify the program.
“I have to go back to the First Amendment,” he said. “I have a professional obligation to preserve the First Amendment. I’m sorry.”
Campfield replied that he, too, supports freedom of speech under the First Amendment, but the issue is “forcing students to pay for speech they find objectionable.” He cited as an example a “transgender cross-dressing show” during the April week of events.
“If someone wants to dress up like a duck, God bless them. But I shouldn’t have to pay for it,” said Campfield.
From a Meagan Boehnke report:
It took about five hours for a lucky winner to track down the golden condom on the University of Tennessee’s campus — far less than the intended five days. It was found behind the clock tower near the Pedestrian Mall. But there will be plenty more events to come — drag shows, trivia, workshops and other sex-tinged presentations — through Friday as part of the school’s inaugural and controversial Sex Week.
“The students have always been really supportive, and we have not had any pushback this week,” said Brianna Rader, co-founder of the event that received national headlines with salaciously themed programming, which provoked local lawmakers.
Rader estimated the kickoff event Sunday evening drew an audience of about 170 students to the University Center Auditorium hear from Megan Andelloux, a nationally certified sexuality educator who runs the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Rhode Island.
A noon workshop on communication from one of her colleagues, Adia Manduley, drew about 30 students Monday at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, where she talked about how to be up front with your partner about what you want and what you don’t want, the importance of identifying your own boundaries before sex and the sometimes tricky issues surrounding consent.
Legislators critical of the upcoming Sex Week UT say University of Tennessee officials moved in the right direction by cutting state funding to the event. But they would like to go further.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said that UT’s withdrawal Wednesday of $11,145 in state funds previously allocated to the weeklong campus program on sex and sex behavior topics was “a half-step.” About $6,700 in student fee monies are still being channeled toward the events, and Campfield said that should be eliminated, too.
“Those fees are mandatory for all students,” he said. “I don’t think most parents and students who pay them want their money going to promoting this kind of thing.”
By Thursday, donations and contributions had largely made up the difference as word spread online about the controversy.
Campfield said the Senate Education Committee has asked that UT President Joe DiPietro and Knoxville campus Chancellor Jimmy Cheek appear before the panel to discuss Sex Week UT and UT policies on such events. Or, as Campfield put it, “Explain the academic merits of a seminar on oral sex.”
Sex Week UT will go on, reports the News Sentinel, thanks to its organizers’ securing roughly $7,000 more in funds in a single day. After the University of Tennessee announced Wednesday evening that it was taking back $11,145 — two-thirds of the weeklong event’s budget — students and other supporters rallied, pushing donations through a PayPal account on the Sex Week UT Web page and a fundraising challenge on the independent site Indiegogo.
“I knew we would get the money back, but in one day!” said Brianna Rader, co-founder of Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, Sex Week’s sponsoring student organization. “I’m still shocked and disappointed that (funding was withdrawn), but I’m so pleased that we were given the opportunity to show how important this is to the students.”
…Sex Week’s cost was $18,195, including money for national speakers, T-shirts, posters and licensing to show two films (“Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Hysteria”), said Rader, who said the schedule had been set since January. That included $6,700 in student activity fees allocated by UT’s student-run Central Program Council, and $11,145 from various academic departments and programs that co-sponsored events.
On Wednesday, UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek decreed student programming dollars could be used, but the $11,145 — drawn from funds that included tuition payments and state allocations — could not.
Legislator criticism of the University of Tennessee’s Sex Week has led campus officials to announce they are cutting state funding to the event, the News Sentinel reports. The weeklong series of events and panel discussions planned for the UT’s Knoxville campus, beginning April 5, has drawn unwanted attention from some state legislators, who have questioned the use of public money earmarked for the program.
Totaling $18,195, the bulk of the event’s funding — $11,145 — was expected to come from academic departments and programs, i.e. state funding.
Another $6,700 in student activity fees was allocated by student boards through UT’s Central Program Council.
On Wednesday, UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said the use of student programming dollars will be allowed, but the state funding will no longer be available.
“We support the process and the students involved, but we should not use state funds in this manner,” Cheek said in a written statement.
In a House floor speech Monday night, Rep. Bill Dunn said plans for “Sex Week” at the University of Tennessee provide an example of campus organizations promoting behavior offensive to Christian students and why legislators need to protect them.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, meanwhile, said he expects UT officials to be called before the Senate Education Committee to explain the event, scheduled on the Knoxville campus April 7-12.
Campfield wrote members of the committee suggesting the panel reconsider its approval of UT’s budget for the coming year because of the event. He said Monday that the committee’s chairman, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, told him reconsideration of budget approval would be difficult, but that UT officials would be summoned to explain Sex Week.
Dunn and Campfield, both Knoxville Republicans, cited a Fox News report on Sex Week, arranged by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness in Tennessee (SEAT).
Dunn told House colleagues that participants will engage in a scavenger hunt for a golden condom and that workshop topics include “getting laid,” “sex positivity,” “queer as a bug” and “how to turn up the heat on our sex drive.”
In an article on the booming education reform advocacy movement around the nation, Education Week cites StudentsFirst in Tennessee as an example. Take, for example, the Tennessee wing of StudentsFirst. Since opening its doors in 2011, the organization has backed legislation or policies to link teacher evaluations to student performance, including test scores; set higher standards for teacher tenure; lift restrictions on class sizes; and offer private school vouchers for disadvantaged students in academically struggling schools.
Not all of those efforts, such as the class-size and voucher measures, became law. But the group is convinced it’s building a reputation as an authoritative voice on school issues at the Statehouse, said Mike Carpenter, the director of StudentsFirst’s Tennessee chapter.
“The message is, ‘We’re here for the long term,’ ” said Mr. Carpenter, a Republican and a former member of the Shelby County Commission. “We’re not here to parachute in for one or two issues and then leave.”
The organization’s success will be measured by whether it becomes a “go-to organization when people want to know something about education, and education reform,” he said. “When legislators start saying, ‘Where is StudentsFirst on this issue?’ then I’ll know we’re having an impact.”
The Tennessee chapter has eight registered lobbyists, some of them hired on a contract basis, working on its behalf at the Statehouse, including Mr. Carpenter and Michelle A. Rhee, the founder and chief executive officer of the national Students First organization. That’s about the same number the Tennessee Education Association says it has promoting its agenda.
By Erik Schelzig, Lucas Johnson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers are preparing for what they hope is the last week of the 107th General Assembly, though issues that still need to be worked out include the state’s annual spending plan, proposals to change the way the state selects Supreme Court justices and a resilient effort to ban teaching about gay issues in schools.
Also still pending is a dispute between business groups and gun advocates over a bill seeking to guarantee that employees have a right to store firearms their cars while at work.
Republican leaders nevertheless express confidence that the session can draw to a close by the end of the week.
“There are about 60 or 70 bills that are still there,” said Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. “I think we’re right on course to adjourn.”
God, guns, gays and money are scheduled debate topics for the 107th Tennessee General Assembly in its windup week.
Enactment of a state budget for the coming fiscal year, a duty formally assigned to the Legislature by the Tennessee constitution, is clearly the most substantive issue remaining as legislative leaders push to adjourn the session by Friday.
The $31 billion budget plan submitted by Gov. Bill Haslam is generating some disputes. The general theme of Democratic critics is that Republican plans unnecessarily hoard at least $200 million from increasing state revenue. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says the total could reach $400 million if revenue trends continue.
Republicans are ready to dip into the growing surplus for some causes, notably including a last-minute move to repeal the state’s “gift tax” at a cost of $15 million in lost revenue. But they insist some hoarding is appropriate because of potential fiscal problems in the year ahead.
House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, cites the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold a federal health care reform law. That alone, he says, could require another $200 million in state spending in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
But, insofar as debate rhetoric and media attention go, the budget may be overshadowed by pending action on several social issues. Among them: