The calendar may say it’s 2022, but in the minds of some Tennessee Republican legislators it might as well be 1852 or 1962 in terms of how little regard they have for Black institutions and officials.
A few days ago the state legislature held what amounted to the ugliest combination of a Salem witch trial and a kangaroo court in a situation where an HBCU that has historically been denied its rightful funding was now seeking legislative help for a crisis no one in or out of the state anticipated.
Across the nation HBCU attendance is soaring. For a variety of reasons, most likely Black students tired of hostility and resentment towards them from white student bodies and institutions who have been fed the lie Black students are being treated better, are returning to HBCUs in large numbers.
At Tennessee State, this has caused a housing crisis. Now a housing crisis isn’t fraud, extortion or murder. It’s a situation where the available resources aren’t enough to handle an unexpected surge in people needing them.
So Tennessee State President Dr. Glenda Glover went where she thought it would make sense to seek help: the state legislature, the place and people who appropriate funds. But instead of getting a respectful audience and a willingness to help, she met an ugliness that was equal parts paternalistic disdain, racial animus, and hostility towards an academic institution that’s never been a favorite of this state legislature anyway,
When the smoke cleared and all the accusatory comments finished, the legislature decided the best way to solve a crisis was to do nothing. Instead of speeding up the $250 million that they had previously approved aimed at new housing the legislature put it on hold.
Dr. Glover attempted to inform this crew that no one, least of all TSU, expected 2,000 more students than initially predicted. She described how the TSU situation was being reflected in attendance booms in North Carolina, Washington D.C., even in Mississippi, but her attempts to inform this committee were met with reactions ranging from skeptical to outright disbelief.
The Committee attempted to justify their attitudes by citing the many student complaints, and no one blames students for being upset at a lack of available housing. They have also been propelled by television news reports that lack context, and paint a picture of incompetent Black administrators wasting money and ignoring the plight of the student body.
Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bo Watson acted as though he were running an SEC investigation of a merger gone bad, demanding all types of documents for an upcoming January meeting. Left unsaid was the implication heads would roll if the Committee didn’t feel that TSU had properly handled the situation.
Watson did at least have the grace and courtesy to later say to President Glover, “Shame on us and shame on Government Operations for not drilling down deeper five or six years ago and helping you solve it, so there’s accountability on both sides.”
Still, after acknowledging the state’s historical and lengthy responsibility for this situation, Watson doubled down on threats, saying “The buck stops with the president, and when the CFO testifies and he says this predates me, that’s true. But it doesn’t predate this board, and it doesn’t predate this president,” he said. He added another not-so-subtle threat that the board is subject to renewal by the Government Operations Committee, and the board hires the president. Watson also attempted to put more blame on TSU by saying that some delay in receiving data from the university was caused by TSU’s failure to provide it.
While no one says TSU is completely blameless in the situation, it is clear that much of what has happened is not directly attributable to administrative incompetence. It is also clear that this legislative committee would not have responded in this matter if UT-Knoxville or Chattanooga, MTSU or ETSU or any other state school’s officials had gone to them seeking help for a crisis they didn’t totally or mostly cause.
“It’s very clear that the goal from all of this is to try to figure out how to get rid of Dr. Glover, and so they’re just trying to build a case around that, to say in the spring we think that management needs to change or that we need a new board,” state Rep. Torrey Harris, a Memphis Democrat, told the Tennessee Outlook.
Harris and other Democrats see these actions and the Committee’s overall attitude as tactical steps taken to pave the way for a firing of Dr. Glover. With Republicans holding a super majority in the legislature, there’s not a whole lot Democrats can do about it if this is indeed the GOP strategy.
Ever since state Comptroller Jason Mumpower issued an audit claiming TSU bookkeeping errors for five years, the right-wingers who control the legislature have looked for a way to drop the hammer on TSU and Dr. Glover. It’s apparent they feel they’ve found it now. At the behest of Lt. Governor Randy McNally, who demanded this one-sided hearing be held, what we have is the specter of a legislative witch hunt aimed at TSU that’s not really interested in addressing the housing crisis, but instead only wants to embarrass Black administrators and pretend to care about Black students while emasculating the institution that wants to prepare them for the future.
The Tribune and other Black legislators and community residents know that the legislature should concentrate on finding ways to end the housing crisis rather than insert themselves into university personnel matters and seek to place their own handpicked puppets to run things the way they want.
The committee has done nothing except publicly attack, embarrass and humiliate Black administrators, while doing absolutely NOTHING about the housing crisis.
This is a failure by the state legislative committee to do its job fairly, and a failure by the overall legislature to deal with a key issue affecting the Black community and Black students.
It’s also time for the Black legislators in the state Congress to step forward and make some bold suggestions to resolve this crisis. It’s pretty clear the Republicans aren’t going to do it.