Funding changes likely after 'exhaustive' report on UT's Sex Week

(WATE/WJHL) - Changes could be coming to how Sex Week at the University of Tennessee is funded after the Tennessee State Comptroller's Office released a new report on Wednesday during the Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville.

The weeklong educational event has caused controversy statewide since it first started in 2013. The state legislature officially condemned the event in 2014 and made an effort to pull funding. UT responded by moving to an opt-in system for fees that support campus programs.

The Tennessee Comptroller's Office released what it calls an "exhaustive" report examining Sex Week at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. The findings were presented on Wednesday afternoon to the  General Assembly's Senate Education Committee on Wednesday afternoon. 

The report focused on following the money. The student group that puts on Sex Week gets donations and fundraising, but most of its money comes from an optional student fee and the comptroller found there is very little transparency surrounding that process.

The state comptroller found Sex Week received more than $105,000 from student fees since 2013. The Senate committee also learned that Sex Week happens at other campuses, even where there is no funding.

UT's Sex Week has been a subject under review since last spring after legislative leadership requested a review to determine whether state resources, directly or indirect are used in the production of the event. 

“Human sexuality is a legitimate academic field of inquiry and should be approached in a scholarly manner. It is not a circus by which the dignity of the human person is denigrated and besmirched,” said Chairman Dolores Gresham at a meeting to the Senate Education Committee on April 11, 2018. 
UT has maintained there is nothing else it can do about Sex Week without violating the First Amendment, but former President Joe DiPietro has said that the university’s communications about the event could have been handled differently.

University of Tennessee interim president Randy Boyd pledged to improve policy while protecting students' right to free speech.

"We believe in the right of free speech and we're going to make sure that we stand up for our students and give them the right to express themselves to lead. We also believe in our students. We believe in committing to their education and their opportunity to lead other students. So we're going to support them in every way that we can," said Boyd.

Boyd says he wants to create a more transparent way of distributing the funds and make sure the money goes to strictly educational activity. 

In a letter addressed to the comptroller, Boyd said the university would hold a public discussion at its next board meeting on March 1 and work with the board to stop allocating fund directly to registered student organizations and eliminate the Student Programming Allocation Committee.

Boyd said he will work with the board to develop a process where the administration decides what programming to fund, including sex education programming, with input from students. He also said the university will adopt a more consistent and proactive communication strategy concerning Sex Week.

He also made it clear the university does not condone foul language and salacious wording in any Sex Week advertising.

Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis issued a statement on the report, saying in part: 

Programming for students and the ability of our students to create and participate in registered student organizations is critical for our campus and something we feel strongly about offering. The report gave us a number of things to consider, and we chose options for moving forward that preserve programming for students.

We are currently working to put in place a new process that includes student input into programming decisions funded with student activity fees and also gives university leadership a greater oversight role. This process is specific to how all funding decisions are made and does not impact anyone’s First Amendment rights. We are looking at other university student activity fee funding models, including other funding models within the UT System. The goal is for this new process to go into effect in time for fall semester programming decisions. It does not impact programs already approved in the current spring semester.

UT's Interim President Randy Boyd said the school will implement some of the suggested changes as outlined in the report. In particular, policy considerations 3, 6,7 and 8, Boyd said.
He said the school is considering policy 10, which is to charge registered student organizations to use its facilities. 

The comptroller's office says some of the topics in the report may be considered so provocative that a disclaimer has been included in one of the appendices of the report. 

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