By Tribune Editorial Staff

At a time when we should be celebrating the accomplishments of Tennessee State University, our elected officials have chosen to scold and attempt to relinquish power from the only public HBCU in the state’s capital. Under its current leadership, President Glenda Glover and the Governor’s appointed Board of Trustees, TSU has experienced its largest first-time freshmen enrollment in history, a record endowment, R2 Carnegie Research Designation, a new dormitory facility, the Dr. Levi Watkins Physician and Dentist Accelerated Pathway with Meharry Medical College, and a Two-Time Grammy Award-Winning Band to name a few. The school has done what outsiders have deemed impossible, while over the past 70 years, nearly 544 million was owed to the University by the State of Tennessee.

On Tuesday, November 15, 2022, an ad-hoc committee reviewed the management and operation of facilities and dormitories at Tennessee State University. Throughout the hearing, a majority Republican-led committee lambasted TSU leaders claiming they mismanaged funds and failed to request housing assistance by a reasonable timeline. However, the timeline was impossible because TSU did the unthinkable. It recruited its’ largest first-time freshmen class in history. No one could’ve predicted the number of students who would commit to enrolling in person during a pandemic. 

TSU’s leadership deserves applause for pivoting to meet students where they were and continuing its operations virtually. This “aggressive recruitment strategy” was the same virtual recruitment strategy that most universities implemented to ensure the success of their operations even though the world shut down. It has been noted that TSU is one of many universities, HBCU or otherwise, that needed to request more housing due to the surge of first-year enrollment during the pandemic. Comptroller Mumpower said, “TSU management made a series of decisions that caused this housing crisis.” Instead of working with TSU to secure student housing now and in the future, the committee blamed TSU for exceeding its recruitment goals. Mumpower even hinted at removing the management of TSU, including the private board of trustees and the University President. Because their students needed housing.

Let’s gain a better understanding of TSU’s leadership structure. On June 8, 2016, former Republican Governor Bill Haslam signed the Focus on College and University Success Act (FOCUS) to empower four-year colleges in Tennessee. Governor Haslam recognized the need for universities to quickly act on their students’ needs to avoid waiting on the Tennessee Board of Regents to approve day-to-day operations. Middle Tennessee State University’s student needs differ significantly from those of Austin Peay State University, the University of Memphis, etc. As a result, the Governor appointed university board of trustee appointments for all six public universities in Tennessee, and the General Assembly completed orientation and professional development for board members. 

Yes, the Governor is responsible for the private board at each 4-year public University in Tennessee. So why is all the blame regarding the so-called mismanagement of funds and the housing issues placed on President Glover and the Governor’s appointed private board of trustees? Did our elected officials fail to check in with the city’s only public HBCU? An HBCU that has operated with little to no funds for several decades?

During a follow-up Senate hearing on Thursday, February 23, 2023, Comptroller Mumpower and his team summarized an eighty-page report which blamed TSU for needing housing and alleged why the State of Tennessee would not own their responsibility to help the students enrolled at Tennessee State University with housing. However, President Glover noted during the hearing that two items needed to be included in the report. 1) There was no fraud or missing funds. 2) The State of Tennessee owes Tennessee State University 544 million dollars. “Everybody wants TSU to be successful. We commend things like its’ Grammy Award Winning Band, Athletic Teams, and we want its Academic Programs to be strong as well,” said Mumpower. 

With all due respect Comptroller Mumpower, TSU has successful academic programs. This is why TSU experienced record enrollment growth. In fact, under President Glover’s leadership Tennessee State University was designated by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as an R2: Doctoral Institution – High Research Activity. The University engages in cutting-edge research to address critical challenges in our society. Tennessee State University is known for producing successful alums who have graduated from its top academic programs. 

Jesse Russell was the microchip inventor who made your phone a wireless device; he studied electrical engineering at TSU. Dr. Alvin Crawford studied Chemistry and Biochemistry and was the first African American admitted to and graduated from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine. He is a Professor Emeritus in Pediatrics and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Dr. Edith Peterson Mitchell studied biochemistry at TSU. Dr. Edith Peterson Mitchell is a clinical professor of Medicine and Medical Oncology, program leader in Gastrointestinal Oncology, and associate director of diversity for the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Mitchell is also a retired United States Air Force Brigadier General, serving as the Air National Guard Assistant to the Command Surgeon for US Transportation command and headquarters Air Mobility Command (AMC). The honorable Thelma Harper graduated from Tennessee State University in 1978. Since 1991, Harper has served as Senator for the 19th District in the Tennessee General Assembly. Her political career has led to the delegate position for the 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992 Democratic National Conventions. Traci Otey Blunt, a veteran media, political, and public affairs specialist, Blunt is the senior vice president for corporate communications and public affairs at RLJ Companies. Dr. Levi Watkins was a cardiac surgeon known for creating and implementing the Automatic Implantable Defibrillator (AID). And there are many more!

Let’s consider all sides in this argument; let’s assume that TSU needs to improve its management, is the only solution to relinquish the power from its private board of trustees and remove the University President, as Comptroller Mumpower has hinted? This could mean that TSU, Nashville’s only public HBCU, is the only University that does not report to a private Governor appointed board. What message does that send? It sends a message that Comptroller Mumpower and the majority republican committee members would rather relinquish power from TSU than help TSU resolve its issues. Comptroller Mumpower could have used his findings from the report as an opportunity to put politics aside and give TSU the help it needs. TSU is finally getting the money it is owed; we know that it has done more with less, why can’t we give TSU a chance to do more with what it is owed? Hasn’t TSU been through enough? There is no such thing as a perfect University; however, there is such a thing as everyone working together to do what is best for our TSU students. Comptroller Mumpower has to recognize the systemic issues that TSU students face. These issues differ for students at community colleges, other public Tennessee LGIs, and private colleges in Tennessee. TSU has been around since 1912. Therefore, TSU knows what is in the best interest of its students. The private board, alums, students, leadership, and community of TSU have learned how to improve going forward. Tennessee State University deserves better; the State of Tennessee should give TSU a lifesaver, not use the Comptroller report to control TSU.