After Being Dismantled For Mismanagement of Funds, A Historically Black University Board is Claiming Racism

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Written By Maya Cantina

Texas Southern University campus. Credit: Aswad Walker

Tennessee’s only publicly funded historically Black university was stripped of its trustees Thursday after Republican Gov. Bill Lee stripped its board.

Several black legislators and community leaders are pulling the race card, however, and claiming that state leaders, most of whom are white, targeted the board because of race.

ABC News reports,

The legislation cleared the state GOP-controlled House on Thursday in a 66-25 vote, and Lee signed off a few hours later without commenting on the controversial decision to vacate the board. He instead praised TSU as a “remarkable institution” as he unveiled that he already had selected 10 new replacements.

“I’m pleased to appoint these highly qualified individuals who will work alongside administrators and students to further secure TSU’s place as a leading institution,” Lee said.

The new appointees, largely from the business community, are now subject to confirmation by the Legislature. Their selection will be critical as TSU is already seeking a new leader because President Glenda Glover plans to retire at the end of this school year.

“All we’re talking about is the board … It’s vacating some personalities and bringing others in,” House Majority Leader William Lamberth told reporters. “The goal is to make TSU successful.”

Numerous state audits have revealed alarming findings, increasing Republican frustration about the ongoing saga of TSU’s leadership. Chronic student housing shortages, escalating scholarship costs, and lingering financial discrepancies have long caused concern.

The House vote is just a week away, and fresh audits have revealed 56 “significant procedural deficiencies.” These range from insufficient documentation of transactions to a lack of caution in budgeting. Due to these discoveries, the institution is in dire need of accountability and reform.

Even after the audit, Democrats, however, have come forward to claim the board was targeted due to race.

Democrats and others say Republicans are focusing on the wrong issues, pointing out that TSU’s problems are primarily due to its being underfunded by an estimated $2.1 billion over the last three decades. They also allege that the majority-white Legislature distrusts a Black-controlled university’s ability to manage itself.

Rep. Bo Mitchell, a Democrat whose district includes TSU, also questioned removing the board of a historically Black college that the state has failed to adequately fund. “I’ve seen many audits of many universities that look horrendous,” Mitchell said. “Have we ever, ever vacated an entire board of a university before? Have we ever done that?”

“Instead of us rectifying the problems that we created through racist policies by underfunding Tennessee State University, we’re now advocating to vacate their board,” said Rep. Justin Pearson, a Democrat from Memphis, raising his voice as he criticized his Republican colleagues.

Most financial offices know that there is a process for allocating funds, and when those funds are found to be irresponsibly handled, someone loses their job. These are Democrats, though, so a race card temper tantrum seems appropriate.

Ridiculous.

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