Monday, March 7th, the UT Knoxville Faculty Senate voted unanimously to pass a resolution stating its opposition to the most recent wave of legislation to allow guns and weapons on campus. The resolution, sponsored by former Senate President, Tony Boulet, alligns with the position adopted by campus and system administrations that because guns on campus does not ensure campus safety, there really is no reason to change the current law.
Senate Bill 330 by Sen. Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) was taken up this week in the Senate Education Committee and passed unanimously. The legislation requires all higher education teacher training programs to allow all legitimate professional teacher organizations access to the campus and the students for the purpose of recruiting and distribution of information. The legislative intent behind the bill is to insure that campuses or departments do not restrict access to a single organization to the exclusion of all others thus combating the impression that there is only one such professional teacher organization in the state.
Information regarding the language and progress of SB 330 can be found here:
The Tennessee General Assembly has before it some thirty plus bills pertaining to the possession or carrying of weapons, including but not limited to firearms, on public property, including the campuses of public postsecondary institutions. Facing down the efforts of a select few bills to specifically allow the carrying of guns on campuses is one of the top priorities for higher education stakeholders this year. Currently, there is only one state in the nation, Utah, that specifically allows for the possession of firearms on higher education campuses. Given the distinct lack of statistical relationship between liberal gun policies and campus safety, there is a broad consensus among campus administrators, students and much of the faculty population that the current law allowing campus policy to stipulate the circumstances of gun possession is best left alone. There are no current policies that impede or prohibit law enforcement and in some circumstances, military persnnel, from possessing or carrying firearms on campus in the discharge of their official capacity.
Despite some relative gains in recent revenue statements, the Governor's budget slated for release in Mid-March will likely carry additional stiff cuts. For the past two years, higher education in Tennessee has been on the seemingly soft glide path to the loss of federal stimulus dollars but the cliff is looming large on July 1st. Budget cuts nearing thirty percent of the state's appropriation for operating budgets will be realized in full and the institutions will be implementing their in place plans to deal with them. However, additional cuts are likely that may impact further government programs and services accross the board in Tennessee, including higher education. Chief among the concerns for the UT and TBR systems are the possible cuts to programs like the matching dollars for Graduate Medical Education, a fifth consecutive year without addressing the compensation issue for higher education employees, including faculty, and another year without state backing to move forward on needed capital projects funding.
One of the recurring issues this first session of the 107th General Assembly will be the growing interest for legislation concerning the citizenship and visa verification by any and all governmental entities. SB 8 (Campfield R-Knoxville), recently on the agenda for the Senate State & Local Government Committee, is merely one of many bills related to the issue of illegal aliens and the extent to which government entities, including public postsecondary institutions, will be required to utilize federal verification programs for the purpose of employment and admissions. The issue may come down to the significant costs associated with using federal verification services to backcheck the citizenship and visa claims of all public employees as well as all applicants for admission into the states public postsecondary institutions. The key concern for higher education stakeholders in Tennessee is the time and cost, on an annual basis, associated with verifying nearly a quarter of a million postsecondary students as well as any future applicants for admission. Current practices and policies relating to verifying the in-state residency claims of all applicants mitigate the need for legislation designed to prohibit the use of state appropriated funds to provide services or benefits to illegal aliens.
The Senate Education committee this week took up SB 113 by Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) much to the chagrin of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), the largest single teachers union in the state. The Education Professional Negotiations Act as proposed by Sen. Johnson essentially eliminates the collective bargaining power and authority of single union entities in a given school district. By removing the current practice of collective bargaining through a single association, all interested parties, associations or individuals will conceivably be able to participate in negotiations with the LEA’s and the school boards.Despite the crowd of pro-TEA supporters present for the bills first committee debate, the legialation passed on a pure partisan vote as it now moves on to await scheduling for the full Senate vote