TN Gov. Bill Lee

By Rosetta Miller-Perry

This state has always denigrated Tennessee State University fairly and this past week the degree of harm that it’s still doing was made public.  A bipartisan group of legislators meeting on the issue discovered that Tennessee currently owes TSU around half a billion dollars. Just think about that for a second, then ask yourself what the public reaction would be if this state owed the University of Tennessee even 1 million, let alone half a billion dollars. This is outright racism against Tennessee State University and a Federal charge should be filed with the Justice Department immediately.

Add to that injustice, the fact that the state is about to write a  billion dollar check to fund the development of a white auto and battery plant in West Tennessee.   A special session of the legislature was convened to take care of that billion dollar detail. So the question is when will the legislature convene to take care of TSUs measly $544 million?    By the way that figure is the result of decades worth of under funding the school because of racism. In less than polite terms, the state,  a well known cheater of black and brown people has been routinely cheating TSU out of needed funds while not denying one cent to the University of Tennessee.

“We understand it’s a process but do some good faith, if you’re unprepared to give $544 million right off the top, you can do the same thing, like you did with this nice big plant that’s coming to West Tennessee —they’ve been given $900 million, we should be given good money up front,” said Barry Barlow, a TSU alum, and Zeta Alpha Alumni Association President.

Others in the Black community are also voicing their concern over the debt. Frederick Waller, owner of Ooh Wee Bar-B-Q on Jefferson Street said the state should make the money available. “Tennessee, the university, they don’t do anything to harm them but they harm Tennessee State and I have a problem with that.” “Tennessee State had been underfunded close to $544 million in state matching funds,” said Rep. Harold Love.

By the way this isn’t just the Tribune or other Blacks and Black institutions making this charge. The legislative committee released a report that details exactly how this state failed to match federal land grants given to TSU. Incidentally, this wasn’t something where the state had a choice and decided not to match the grants. This is deliberate ignorance and/or refusal to obey the law that requires them to do so.

“When we talk about land grant institutions there’s a requirement that the state provides matching funds to the federal dollars that they drawdown, this is significant because when the state does not provide those matching funds, the university often times has to make the funds available themselves for the particular federal grant,” said Love, who sits on the committee.

Rep. Love added that this move  put the university in a position to deal with issues from infrastructure, expanding course work and staff, to the recruitment of students, by shuffling general funds. “This is what happens when you don’t have that required funding to come in properly issues are differed and put off and you end up with a situation where you have dire needs of repairs out there,” Love said.

Now let’s see what impact, if any, this news has. Governor Bill Lee’s promise gives us little faith    that the state will address this situation, even as the legislature approves almost $900 million in incentives for that white West Tennessee mega-site that may or may not hire minorities. “I met with board members of TSU to talk about appropriate funding, what that funding should be used for, how much it should be, where the investment should be made those are all ongoing conversations,” Lee said. (I wonder if he ask that  white West Tennessee mega-site the same questions).

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission produced a report from last year that showed over $337 million of deferred maintenance is needed on the campus. Rep. Love said “I’m hopeful and believing that in the midst of the committee reporting out how much Tennessee State is owed, in the midst of us just coming from a special session where we are investing 900 million dollars in Ford and SK, that the governor also sees that this is also a necessary investment.”   My question Governor , a necessary investment for who?  Any legislators benefiting?  

The Tribune is deeply skeptical that the state will   do what it should have been doing under a Republican governor and  give TSU the money  in 2021.  It’s a matter of simple justice and respect,  two areas that some Republicans and the Governor have shown themselves sorely and sadly deficient  when it comes to the Black and Brown communities.