Student organizations at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga may see their funding reduced by $43,000 this year, thanks to fallout over “Sex Week” at the university’s main campus in Knoxville.
Conservative state lawmakers, outraged earlier this year that the weeklong event in Knoxville featured such events as a drag show, a poetry reading by a lesbian bondage expert and a talk titled “getting laid,” weighed such options as prohibiting speakers on University of Tennessee campuses.
Legislators finally decided in March to let students pick between two options:
Option one allocates a portion of a $120-per-semester fee to programming by student organizations.
Option two puts the student fee money into a pot that each campus’ vice chancellor for student development will decide how to spend.
“We may spend that money on a leadership program for students,” UTC Dean of Students Jim Hicks said. “That’s just an example. We haven’t made any plans yet.”
While Knoxville’s Sex Week drew national attention, a chart of more than 150 student-funded programs at UTC last year showed only a few that had sex-related themes: Feel Good Naked, Drag Show and Everyone is Gay.
All student-funded programming has to have an educational component, Hicks said.
“Some people like to put a racy title on it,” he said. “There has to be a legitimate educational need to do the program.”
The drag show at the University Center’s 300-seat auditorium was followed by a question-and-answer period with drag queens.
“Our drag show was incredibly well-attended. We had tons of folks out,” UTC student body President Robert A. Fisher said. “That program was … about understanding another group of people.”
Most opt in
So far at UTC, where the fall semester begins today, about 75 percent of students have chosen to “opt in” and direct money to student organizations, while 25 percent have opted out, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Development Dee Dee Anderson said.
The Knoxville campus reports 81 percent opt in and 19 percent opt out, UT spokeswoman Gina Stafford said.
Those opt-in, opt-out percentages could change, because students can change their minds until Wednesday in Knoxville and Aug. 24 in Chattanooga, Stafford said.
UTC students make the decision to opt in or out when they log in to their school Internet portal, MyMocsNet.
“There is a page that stops them, and they have to choose where to allocate their money,” Anderson said. “If they don’t make a selection, it defaults to option two.”
Fisher wrote an editorial in UTC’s student newspaper, The University Echo, urging students to opt in to fund such events as “laser tag parties, movie nights, open mic nights, lectures, concerts.”
Students may be opting out, he said, under the mistaken impression that it will save them money.
“I think that’s the perception that people have,” Fisher said. “At the end of the day, you’re paying the same amount of money.”
Several students on campus last week leaned toward opting in.
“I just feel that we’re the ones going to school here, so we should be the ones making that decision,” said Erin Norton, a freshman from Chapel Hill, Tenn., who plans to major in biology.
Raine Donley, a sophomore from Pulaski, Tenn., who’s studying physical therapy, said, “I think my mom’s doing it, honestly. I’m pretty sure we did it to student groups.”
Last year, $172,000 was allocated to UTC student organizations. If the opt-in, opt-out percentages hold and that allocation stays at $172,000, student organizations could see their funding drop by $43,000 to $129,000.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.