By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — Representative Harold Love (D-District 58) has managed to get chronically underfunded TSU $800,000 for its agricultural research station in McMinnville and $1.1 million for food science research at its Nashville campus.
Loved arrived late at TSU’s Avon Williams campus Tuesday because he had been in committee meetings all day but he had good news for the students and faculty that came to hear about the history of TSU’s under funding and what they could do about it.
“Economics is about the allocation of scarce resources,” Love said. But politics is how they actually get allocated. Love thanked the Lee administration and Rep. Andy Holt (R-District 76) for helping him put $1.9 million in recurring funds into Lee’s state budget. Love’s bill also requires an annual report of land grant appropriations every year to ensure they are being made equitably.
“This wasn’t asking for new money. This was asking for old money that wasn’t paid,” Love said.
He said TSU was shorted about $37 million between 2000-2016, because the state did not match federal funds. Tennessee has two land grant colleges, TSU and UT Knoxville (UTK).
TSU student Secilie Jones, a single mother and the first member of her family to graduate from college, asked students what they would like to see if TSU had more money. They responded by clapping to each item on a list Jones read. It included better facilities and building maintenance, computer labs with printers and paper in every building and in every dormitory.
As Jones continued students continued to clap. She called for better pay for adjuncts and support staff, hiring more state workers with benefits and ending contracts with vendors who take those jobs. More money for scholarships to end “purges” got a loud response. At the beginning of every term some students who cannot pay their fees and cannot meet requirements for loans or a payment plan have to drop out. With more resources, those students could finish their degrees.
Learotha Williams, Associate Professor of History, summarized the history of land grant colleges. They were established in 1862 when Congress passed the Morrill Act to teach agriculture and mechanic arts as well as traditional university courses.
“It would seem as though this would be a boon to African Americans seeking an education during Reconstruction but sadly that was not the case,” Williams said. Whites violently opposed higher education for blacks. In Tennessee they were not admitted.
Between 1869 and 1880 African Americans did not receive any assistance from the state to attend college. In 1881 ten students enrolled at Fisk University and Williams said that was the first time African Americans benefited from Morrill funds. At the time Fisk tuition was $30 a year so blacks received a total of $300 to attend college that year. That same year, UT Knoxville received $390,000 in Morrill funds.
In 1887 the Hatch Act required states to match federal education dollars at land grant colleges.
That frequently did not happen, and is still not happening, especially in the South. In 1890 a second Morrill Act was passed in response to some states that refused to admit African Americans to their land grant universities.
HBCUs were started in response to segregation in institutions of higher education that persisted for at least a century after the Civil War. Williams said that in 1934, UT Knoxville received $450,000 from the state legislature. TSU got $52,000 and that disparity has persisted for decades.
“I am reminded of that James Baldwin quote,” Williams said. “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”
TSU students have started a Fair Funding for TSU Advocacy Working Group and plan to start lobbying state representatives to get what they should have gotten but did not.
This article originally appeared in The Tennessee Tribune.