Stacey Campfield's vision for student group funding distribution worries some, particularly given his past criticism of student activity with group funds.
Senate Bill 1608, created by state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, of District 7, would revolutionize the way UT grants funding to student organizations.
Given that every student must pay student activities fees at the beginning of each semester, Campfield believes funding should be distributed based on organizational membership, as explained in the bill.
"It pretty much says if we are paying speakers, that the funding for speakers should be divided up evenly among clubs, based on membership for the clubs themselves," Campfield said. "Everybody would have a fair shot at the money they pay. ... It just makes the distribution more fair."
Currently, the university uses student requests as the basis for funding through the University Programs and Services Fee Allocation Board. The UPSF board consists of students, faculty and staff. However, the board is mostly student-run and chaired by the Student Government Association president. In other words, the board is advised by faculty, but student-run.
The creation of SB1608 was due in part to Campfield's concern that the UPSF board grants funding with a bias toward liberal-leaning guest speakers.
"The current system has routinely shut down conservative speakers from being presented," Campfield said. "They dole out the money however they see fit, and they are cheating some clubs and giving preferential treatment to others."
Associate Dean of Students Jeff Cathey said he agrees that while there may be more liberal student groups applying for funding, the general process remains fair.
"I don't have that perception that the process is biased," Cathey said. "The board welcomes all proposals. ... If anything, maybe our students with a more liberal perspective tend to be a bit more active in wanting to bring things to campus."
Roughly a year ago, Campfield began auditing the process of granted funds as discussion around the bill grew.
"For the past year, we do not have documentation of really any, if there were any in the past three years, conservative-based interests being denied," Cathey said.
Brandon Chrisman, junior in political science and member of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature and President of College Republicans, asserts that his organization hosts a conservative speaker once a month, an event always open to the public.
However, the university does not sponsor these speakers. Christman said all speakers for College Republicans visit for free.
"We, as long as I've been present, haven't had to pay for a single speaker," Chrisman said. "I don't know of any, since I have been a freshman here, that we have had to pay for."
Chrisman said he does feel UT generally hosts a disproportionate number of liberal speakers, however.
"If you look at some of the speakers that have come," Chrisman said, "most of them tend to be liberal."
Much controversy surrounding Campfield's bill stems from the suspicion its policy seeks to undermine Sex Week, an event series hosted by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, or SEAT. When university funding was abruptly pulled before last year's Sex Week, Campfield publicly supported this administrative decision.
Despite such notions, Campfield stated his bill is not an attack on SEAT.
"(This bill) has been percolating for a while," Campfield said. "It presented itself most full in (Sex Week). The speakers were all one point of view."
Brianna Rader, senior in college scholars and one of the co-founders of SEAT, does not see the bill as an attack on SEAT specifically, but rather a provocation toward organizations in general.
"Stacey Campfield isn't directly attacking Sex Week; he's directly attacking every student organization on this campus," Rader said. "This bill is not necessary. It will only be an obstacle for student organizations. Funding will become focused on membership instead of content or quality.
"The university will have poorer programming as a result of this bill."
Chrisman, however, said he sees merit in Campfield's idea.
"From everything I have heard about the bill, I think it is pretty common sense," Chrisman said. "Large organizations that have broad emphasis and broad topics that they cover, they probably are going to need more money to bring people in, but at the same time, I don't think the College Democrats should be disenfranchised."
Still, Cathey said he fears that SB1608 could foster a campus saturated with homogenous speakers.
"I think it could end up causing even more bias," Cathey said. "I would be concerned that it would end up yielding a culture of groups collecting members. We don't have a clear definition of what you have to do to be a member, and we are not interested in trying to monitor this or collect this. We try to let our student organizations be independent. ... Being a member could be as easy as singing up to be on an email list.
"If things gravitated over time to be the big general majorities of East Tennessee, well, fundamentally then, our underrepresented groups aren't hardly going to get any funding."