Officials to Decide Future of College Desegregation Funding

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is not ready to say if he wants to continue state funding for diversity programs in a settlement of the state’s college desegregation case, but a University of Tennessee official says the spending should be extended.

Since 2001, Tennessee has earmarked approximately $78.3 million for the diversity programs, but now a Republican lawmaker says it is time to redirect the money.

“We should steer the money toward programs that benefit all the students, not just one subgroup,” says state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.

Higher education officials say that in the next six months they will evaluate the effectiveness of the programs, created by the 2001 Geier Consent Decree, and report the findings to Bredesen.

“I would like to continue the programs and explore tapping into other resources and reaching other [minority] audiences,” says Wendy Thompson of the Tennessee Board of Regents.

The agreement settled a 1968 lawsuit filed by a Tennessee State University instructor who sought to desegregate colleges in the state.

Lydia Lenker, the Democratic governor’s press secretary, says Bredesen was pleased with the rogress made under Geier.

“It would be premature for the governor to comment on funding issues at this time,” Lenker said when contacted for comment.

The Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee system has used the money to start scholarships, marketing campaigns, faculty salary incentives and other initiatives to attract Black students and faculty to its colleges.

In January, a five-year deadline to start the programs was met. The agreement now is up for final review by a federal court in Nashville.

Dr. Theotis Robinson, the system’s vice president for equity and diversity, says he expects the state to continue the funding for Geier’s programs because they contribute to Bredesen’s commitment to improve student access to college.

Robinson says combined numbers from the system’s Knoxville, Chattanooga and Martin campuses show an increase in Black enrollment from 9.9 percent to 12.4 percent since 2000. That’s equal to about 800 students, he said.

“It’s been an invaluable program for the state of Tennessee,” he says.

Deputy Tennessee Attorney General Kevin Steiling said in a statement that negotiations were continuing and he was hopeful the case would be heard in federal court in July.

The state included $11.3 million for Geier programs in its 2007 budget. Thompson says the allocation would pay off all outstanding obligations under the agreement.

Associated Press

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