jeff obafemi carr

By Tony Jones

The Washington, DC based Chronicle of Higher Education (September 24, 2021) has released an in-depth article about the funding discrepancy between the State of Tennessee and Tennessee State University.

Entitled The Betrayal of Historically Black Colleges, Chronicle staffer Katherine Mangan details several personal stories behind the unraveling trail of deceit TSU faculty and students faced to advance their education goals, reaching back to a protest in 1990 staged by then TSU student jeff obafemi carr. 

“I hear students talking about the same issues we complained about 31 years ago,” said carr, now a spiritual leader and community activist in Nashville, on a recent visit to campus (carr lowercases his names as a sign of humility),” it recounts.

The article notes “A state-of-the-art Health Sciences Center opened in June, and construction is underway on a 700-bed residence hall,” as it recounts embedded infrastructure needs throughout the campus.

Exposing the matter before the halls of academia in the nation’s power center could potentially prove valuable in bringing to light discrepancies at HBCU’s across the nation. 

Interviewed by Mangan this past summer, Study Committee co-chair Rep. Harold Love, Jr., (D-58) certainly hopes so. 

“This article could prove to be influential because it would identify there’s been under funding in one 1890 land grant institution. You could have at least 17 others that may be facing this same situation. It could prove to be a blueprint for how other 1890s (HBCUs) look to secure their funding. We were inspired and encouraged by the work of the Maryland legislature to rectify their situation with private and public 1890s schools,” Love said. “I have been in contact with the national Black Caucus of State Legislators about their being similar activities in the various states where 1890 schools are established.”

A 31-page Facility Condition Report issued by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) concludes that TSU needs $337 million in repairs. The report provides a building-by-building walkthrough assessing items on a critical need basis, and a timeline of how it all can be paid for over time.    

“We’re in meetings now with the governor because we hope to get some money into the state budget so that when the legislature meets in January we can get started securing the funding so we can begin on some of the projects listed in the report,” said Love.

The latest developments derive from the work of the 6-member Land Grant Institution Funding History Study Committee. Convened Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, with a follow-up session Tuesday, Dec. 8th, both were reported by The Tennessee Tribune. Some members of the bi-partisan group seemed aghast at the level of trickery to keep the state from paying its fair share of matching funds to TSU as outlined by the 1890s Land Grant Act, in stark contrast to the consistent match provided to its sister school the University of Tennessee. 

A further dive into the Tribune’s archives will also yield years of step-by-step updates on TSU’s funding woes as it fought decades of political finagling that swept up to $500 million in matching funds due to TSU under the rug of complacency, doubt and racism that has always dogged Tennessee’s legislative history. 

“I think for the White House it also becomes an issue of prime importance. You have public and private HBCUs, 1890 Land Grant HBCUs and the White House could be very interested in it because there are states that have over decades not funded institutions, therefore you had buildings that were not repaired, endowments that were lowered, scholarships that were lowered, and that deprived those students from getting certain levels of education. That is why I will always be sure to applaud HBCUs that provide proper educations and graduate students despite having lower funds,” Love said.