Tennessee state legislators heard directly from Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower on issues Thursday outlined in a newly released report on Tennessee State University (TSU)’s housing crisis.

The report came after his office received 14 separate complaints involving TSU’s lack of student housing. While the housing issue was the report’s focus, the comptroller also found issues in other separate areas.

The report cites the university’s lack of a sound final policy, offering several examples of leaders giving conflicting statements and several instances of them not approving funding in a timely fashion. It was determined that TSU’s lack of planning and management, especially regarding scholarship practices, exacerbated the university’s housing problem. Furthermore, the comptroller’s office said that TSU will continue to face a housing crisis for the foreseeable future.

As a result of these findings, the report offers several recommendations, including that lawmakers vacate and restructure the school’s board of trustees and hire new administrators. Furthermore, the university was recommended to be added back to the Tennessee Board of Regents for oversight.

Following Mumpower’s presentation, the university was allowed to offer a rebuttal to the comptroller’s report.

Backed by supporters, TSU President Glenda Glover said that the university was “[n]ow in a better position than it had ever been in its 111-year history.”

She further criticized the report, arguing that when first contacted by the comptroller’s office, it presented itself in a manner that indicated it wanted to help the university. The letter notifying TSU of the report indicated a desire to support TSU and legislators in identifying and addressing student needs.

She charged that the produced report and the initial goals expressed did not align.

“We are profoundly disappointed in his tone and his content, in a report that does not purport with the stated purpose of review. It does not align with what he said it was for,” she said.

Throughout Glover’s presentation, she pointed out, “There is no money missing or misappropriated.”

Glover’s comment met with applause from gathered supporters. The applause led to ad hoc committee chairman, State Senator John Lundberg (R-Bristol), admonishing the crowd, telling them, “this isn’t a sporting event,” and demanding that they conduct themselves accordingly.

The comptroller’s report offers no implication of missing money or fraud.

The TSU president went on to draw attention to a report by the Office of Legislative Budget Analysis which found lawmakers from both parties had underfunded the college for decades. As a result, the university may be owed as much as $540 million in back funding. Glover claimed this issue is not addressed in the comptroller report despite the report acknowledging the impact of that deficit in funding on a long-term housing solution.

“After a report by the Office of Legislative Budget Analysis showed that Tennessee may have underfunded TSU, Governor Bill Lee announced his budget recommendation of $250 million to improve the physical infrastructure at TSU in January 2022,” the report said. “This money is dedicated to address life-safety issues and deferred maintenance and invest in academic buildings. It cannot be used for auxiliary facilities, which generate revenues to cover operating costs; therefore, TSU cannot use the funds to build or improve dormitories and other student housing.”

The TSU president claimed the school “solved their Housing problem,” despite the comptroller’s office identifying four dorms at the end of their usefulness. The oldest was built in the early fifties, the others in the sixties. Current housing consists of 3,680 beds. Adding two new residence halls would add 1,000 beds. When you take in required demolition, a net reduction of 500 beds is produced.

The university did not acknowledge that areas needed improvement, but they were already taking steps to rectify those. When committee member State Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) asked to clarify an additional $28 million in scholarship money that was not approved until November, after it had presumably been spent, it was offered that November was more of a formality. Before that, all board members had been contacted and signified individual approval of the additional funds.

Contacted by The Tennessee Star after the meeting, state legislators expressed their appreciation to both Mumpower and TSU for their presentations.

Hensley said, “Both presentations were good. They gave us lots to think about. I’m not sure where it’ll all go, but we’ll have to consider everything.”

Lundberg echoed his fellow senator’s sentiments to The Star, saying, “I think that TSU did as best they could in answering a thorough comptroller’s report. Leaves us with a lot to consider going forth.”

In closing his report, Mumpower told of a recent conversation between himself and a TSU Board of Trustees member.

The member told him, “We don’t think there need to be any changes in the board of trustees. We don’t think there need to be any changes in management. But trust us, everything else is going to change.”

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TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]. He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.
Photo “Jason Mumpower” by Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. Background Photo “Tennessee State University” by Tennessee State University.