Members of the state Senate Higher Education Subcommittee were at the Capitol for a hearing Thursday and Knoxville Republican Stacey Campfield seized the opportunity to spar with administrators from the state’s public university systems over how schools allocate student activities money.
Top on the agenda for Campfield, an outspoken social conservative who seems to never stray far from the limelight, was the so-called “Sex-Week” put on by student groups at the University of Tennessee Knoxville back in March.
The event, which included talks and events related to sexuality and reproductive health, was organized by student groups and initially received funding from the university’s student activities budget, but after Campfield and other conservative lawmakers cried foul, that money was pulled.
Still, the senator challenged representatives from the UT system and the Tennessee Board of Regents Thursday to explain their reasoning for initially approving what he characterized as “obscenity.”
Beyond the specifics of Sex Week, Campfield, who also sits on the state Senate’s full Education Committee, charged that the state’s public universities displayed a liberal bias in the speakers and events they funded on campus. Campfield read aloud a list of dozens of speakers that student groups had brought to UT campuses in the past three years, claiming that only one was conservative.
“I hate to say it but I’m not seeing much diversity there,” Campfield said. “I’m seeing a whole bunch of left. Except for maybe one person three years ago you had the former chairman of the RNC speak…that was the only one I could find who was clearly, I would say, right-leaning.”
“Looking at the facts of all the speakers, I’m saying there’s probably some content bias,” he continued.
Yet beyond the list of guest speakers, Campfield couldn’t offer evidence that schools discriminated against or denied funding to right-leaning student groups.
For their part, university officials maintained that their policies for allocating money aren’t based on the content or political leaning of groups or speakers.
University of Tennessee President Joe Dipietro told reporters after the hearing that student groups of all stripes are treated equally in the UT system.
“We have a process for them to be recognized as an registered organizations,”Dipietro said. ”We have a diverse population of people around our universities, both conservative and liberal.”
After spending close to an hour and a half on the issue, the subcommittee ended with a resolution to recommend that the full Senate Education Committee consider imposing policy changes during next year’s legislative session.