University of Tennessee's "Sex Week" has led one state senator to introduce two bills that would drastically change the way student activities are funded on college campuses in the state.
The first bill, S.B. 2493, prohibits colleges and student groups from using college money, including student fees, to pay for visiting or guest speakers. It would force student groups hosting events like "Sex Week" to pay speakers from other sources, rather than from general student fees. The second, S.B. 1608, would force universities to spread the money given to paid speakers equally, according to the number of students in each organization requesting funding.
The bills have ignited a storm of controversy, with the University of Tennessee administration and student groups attacking them for targeting "Sex Week" specifically. In an interview on Thursday, the state senator, Republican Stacey Campfield, told The Christian Post that "Sex Week" is not the sole reason for his reforms. "I don't think there's a real divergent point of view at our universities," he declared.
Campfield argued that there is little to no intellectual diversity among paid speakers. He mentioned "Sex Week" speakers, who tend to be porn stars, and the former presidential nominee of the Communist Party. "You can see what their point of view is, and I don't think it has anything to do with people getting jobs or getting an education. It's pushing an agenda," the state senator declared.
Nevertheless, Campfield did attack "Sex Week." "When you're having some participants chasing people down the streets dressed in giant penis and vagina costumes, when you have porn stars speaking, I wonder what educational value our students are receiving," the state senator said. He argued that "our tuition prices are high already," and students do not need to pay for non-educational programs, especially if they do not support them.
The state senator told CP that both parents and students have complained to him that their money is being wasted on programs that have nothing to do with education. "I don't need all this stuff. I need something that's going to help me get a job, start a future," he paraphrased.
Goals for the Legislation
"I don't think we should be forcing people to pay for speakers whom they find ethically, morally, or politically objectionable," Campfield declared. "That's tyranny when you force people to pay for speeches they disagree with."
The first bill would prohibit college funds, including student fees, going to special speakers unconnected with official classes. By prohibiting student groups from using this money to fund speakers at events like "Sex Week," it would ensure that, if student groups paid speakers to address them, the groups would spend their own money. A student who morally objects to "Sex Week" would no longer have to pay for it indirectly through his mandatory student fees.
If the first bill fails to pass, the second, which apparently would have no effect if the first passed, would guarantee that paid speakers funded by the college would represent a variety of viewpoints. If the college should pay speakers at all, "it should be done in a non-partisan, non-biased way," the senator argued to CP. "If there are paid speakers, the money should be doled out on a fair basis."
Goals for the Legislation
The two bills introduced by Senator Campfield have been attacked for specifically targeting "Sex Week," but the senator argued that their goal is to broaden debate on campus. "I don't think we should be forcing people to pay for speakers whom they find ethically, morally, or politically objectionable," the senator declared. "That's tyranny when you force people to pay for speeches they disagree with."
According to the Tennessee capitol website, S.B. 2493 "prohibits use of institutional revenues, including student activity fees, to engage visiting or guest speakers for events at public institutions of higher education." Campfield argued that if the bill passes, "kids can opt out of student fees," which would allow them to choose to which speakers they will give their money.
The second bill, S.B. 1608, would force the universities to spread out the money given to paid speakers equally according to the number of students in each organization requesting funding. "It should be done in a non-partisan, non-biased way," the senator argued. "If there are paid speakers, the money should be doled out on a fair basis."
A Negative Student Response
Students at the University of Tennessee, which will have its second annual "Sex Week" this year, have opposed both bills. The Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT) Executive Board argued against them in an email statement to The Christian Post. The board emphasized that "offering the option to opt into the student programming fee will hurt all programs on campus that use this funding," including "academic lectures and entertainment events that add to the quality of life on our campus and are necessary in attaining the goal of becoming a top 25 public research university."
The SEAT board also insisted that the bills are in response to "Sex Week." Their email referenced Senate Joint Resolution 626, which explicitly mentions "Sex Week" and urges colleges and universities to add a disclaimer when a student pays the required fees. It also mentioned House Joint Resolution 661, which explicitly condemns the event.
SEAT's email championed a petition against the bills signed by 3,500 students and presented at the Tennessee state House on Monday. "It has become clear that all students at UT are opposed to these bills which change the allocation of student fees because of the widespread impact that they will have on all student organizations and their ability to bring speakers to campus," SEAT's board wrote CP.
The Debate About "Sex Week"
The SEAT board praised "Sex Week," arguing that it "has an event for everyone, including students and citizens of faith." The board members mentioned an event called "Longterm Intimacy: Commitment and Sex" which featured a local minister discussing the importance of marriage. "Sexuality and religion are strongly connected for many people, and we are committed to making sure that this perspective is heard each year," the email concluded.
Campfield argued that UT has over 30,000 students, and a petition of 3,500, while sizeable, "does not necessarily represent everybody."
The senator also referred to an incident at Yale in 2011, where "Sex Week" was kicked off campus due to sexual harassment problems. While sex-ed programs claim to help students avoid abuse, "they're finding that it causes more problems with sexual harassment than it's curing," Campfield claimed. Such programs skate over "the problems with pornography and how it objectifies and belittles women in a lot of ways," the senator argued.
UT President Joe DiPietro is arguing that the state senate should drop the legislation in order to avoid damage to the school, the Tennessean reported. "The attention focused on this matter by the General Assembly is quickly reaching a point that will cause greater harm and damage to the long-term interests of the University than any programming that may occur as a result of Sex Week," DiPietro declared.