Back to the Drawing Board
UT will revisit its campus programming funding — again — after student groups say a new system has shut them out.
by jesse fox mayshark • february 25, 2020
student katie galyon addresses the ut board of trustees during their feb. 20 meeting in Chattanooga. (Photo courtesy of the university of tennessee)
University of Tennessee officials say they will take another look at the distribution of campus programming fees after concerns that this year’s changes have left students feeling cut out.
A change intended to keep funds away from Sex Week is affecting other student events.
Katie Galyon, a senior at UT Knoxville who identified herself as the founder of a group called Students Protecting Student Funding, told the university’s Board of Trustees last week that the new system has made it difficult for student organizations to get funding for their events.
“Student groups, both large and small, regardless of political affiliation, should still be able to receive funding to host events just as they have been able to do for decades,” Galyon said, addressing the board at its Winter Meeting in Chattanooga. “We’re asking you all to help us return student programming to the campuses of the University of Tennessee System.”
Responding to Galyon’s comments, UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman told trustees, “We put in place a new process, and to be honest, there have been kinks in that as well.”
Plowman reminded the trustees that the new system was put in place at their direction last year. But she said the system would be reviewed and revised for the next academic year.
“We are going to complete this year, look at it and continue to adjust that to try to find a way to let students feel like they're involved in planning things, and yet stay within the board's guidelines,” Plowman said.
The issue is part of the fallout from the university’s efforts to contain legislative outrage over the annual Sex Week program, a series of sex education events sponsored by the student group Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT).
Last year, Interim UT President Randy Boyd proposed and the trustees approved a change in the distribution of Student Program and Services Fees (SPSF) collected from students. Where student organizations used to be able to apply directly for funding to help underwrite campus events, those funds are now handled by administrators. At UT Knoxville, they are under the supervision of the Office of Student Life.
Boyd explained to state legislators that the university couldn’t stop students from organizing Sex Week on their own, but that the changes would give administrators direct control of the programming funds.
As the new system was put into place last fall, both students and faculty advisers to student groups raised concerns that it would effectively make it impossible for any student groups to plan and organize their own events using the programming funds.
Galyon told trustees last week that that concern has been borne out. “Following the change in the policy, the fall of 2019 saw a record low number of events funded by SPSF,” she said, “and nearly all of them were departmental events or put on by the Campus Events Board, which is the largest student programming organization on campus.”
Left out, she said, were student groups that for decades have been able to plan, book and organize their own events with financial support from the student fees.
“For members of student programming organizations, planning and executing events is not only enjoyable and rewarding, but it has several educational components as well,” Galyon said. “Students develop many of the skills that the University of Tennessee identifies as career-ready skills, including oral and written communications, collaboration, digital literacy, leadership, professionalism, management and intercultural fluency.”
After hearing from Galyon, some members of the Board of Trustees expressed concern that the new policy had gone too far in limiting student involvement.
“I thought that the intent was not that the students couldn’t lead activities, it just had a different approval process,” Trustee Bill Rhodes said.
Plowman responded, “I think we haven’t figured out yet how to help them lead on these inside a new approval process. So that is the intent, and we need to get there.”
She noted that one complicating factor has been the recent departure of Vince Carilli, the vice chancellor for student life whose office oversaw the new policy. A search is underway for his replacement.
Boyd added, “I think there is an opportunity to execute better on our side.”
“Shame on us for not, because we knew this was going to be a controversial issue,” Rhodes said. “I would just encourage us to make sure we’ve got enough hands on deck to make sure we solve this for next year.”