Non-binding resolutions cannot progress into law, but Senate bills, if passed, can.

Recent legislation proposed by state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), however, could drastically change how UT allocates funding for student organizations.

Senate Bill 1608 would require funding for organizations inviting speakers to campus be allocated proportional to the organization's size, while Senate Bill 2493 would not allow the use of any institutional revenue, including student activity fees, to pay for a campus speaker.

Thursday, these bills were both calendared for vote by the House education subcommittee on the March 18 and for vote by the Senate Education Committee on March 19.

University of Tennessee system schools in Martin and Chattanooga would also be impacted, in addition to schools associated with the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Robert Fisher, Student Government Association president at UT-Chattanooga, said his largest concern about SB1608 is the assumption that larger organizations on campus should hold more clout.

"When you have proportional funding only the large organizations ... they have an advantage that a smaller group may not have," Fisher said.

UT-Martin's SGA Vice President Alex Wilson said the impact of SB1608 would be much smaller for his campus, due to how they allocate their student fees.

"About the only thing that we do that would be close to that would be we have a committee that can provide transportation costs to different student organizations if they apply for it," Wilson said. "And that's pretty much the only effect that it would even have."

Senate Bill 2493 would have an equal effect on all campuses.

In Fisher's opinion, the ability to bring speakers to a college campus is a necessity of higher education.

"(Higher education) provides a structured environment for you to hear ideas you're not comfortable with and formulate your own opinion as to why you agree or don't agree," Fisher said. "To limit the university's capability to articulate to tell students they don't have the freedom to engage visiting speakers, to me, makes no sense."

Both Fisher and Wilson expressed concerns about the precedent set by SB1608 and SB2493.

"Honestly it almost makes me kind of nervous," Wilson said. "This kind of makes me wonder if the same legislature is going to step in and do something with this, then what else are they going to step in on."

Fisher agreed, calling the the bills "dangerous."

"It gives future legislators ... the idea that they can create a solution in search of a problem," Fisher said. "Just because a legislator doesn't agree with the program on campus doesn't mean you legislate it away. And that sets a pretty dangerous precedent for overreach."

Recently, UT-Chattanooga's SGA leadership met with Chattanooga area Sens. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), who serves on the state's education committee, and Bo Watson (R-Hixson).

Fisher said the senators were receptive of their message.

"We talked about the policy and what would happen to each student organization and how those changes would impact us," Fisher said. "So I think that's the type of discussion we need to have for the legislature to in many ways try to provide a solution to a problem I don't think they fully understand.

"That continues for us to be the largest challenge for us trying to convey to legislators this is the type of discussion we should be having about student fees and student programing to not be dominated by legislative action."

 

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