The University of Tennessee at Knoxville is facing the music over the controversial event known as Sex Week, with the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office sending a report to legislators pointing out that very few students attend the university-supported program.
A copy of the report by the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability is available here. The report was given to the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.
Legislative leadership requested a review of the week-long event which has been held at UTK each spring since 2013. The event is organized by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT), a registered student organization (RSO).
A 2017 story by The Tennessee Star revealed the titles of some of the Sex Week classes, such as “Having an Affair With Yourself.” The names go downhill from there.
According to the Comptroller, SEAT’s membership is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of UTK’s enrollment, and has refused administrators’ requests to “tone it down.”
The Comptroller’s Office says:
• SEAT is one of about 600 RSOs at UTK, all of which are eligible to request student activity fee funding. In four of the past five years, SEAT received the highest allocation of student activity fee funds, including about $29,000 in both 2016-2017 and 2017-2018.
• SEAT also received gift funds, private donations, and indirect benefits, such as use of campus facilities, for Sex Week, all of which are options for RSOs at UTK.
• The University has taken some actions to address the Sex Week controversy, but the most significant change, to give students the choice whether to allocate their mandatory activity fee to student-organized programming (such as Sex Week), was made reluctantly.
• SEAT has been unwilling to compromise with university administrators who have asked it annually to “tone it down” and consider the impact of its language choices.
University officials have said they have done all they could without violating free speech. In 2016, the General Assembly passed a law that does not ban Sex Week but does prohibit the use of “state funds” to “fund or support Sex Week.” The university said the definitions are vague.
Tennessee Star Political Editor Steve Gill pointed out the absurdity of UTK’s responses.
Gill said, “UT officials apparently don’t think they can ban a Sex Week that uses the university’s facilities and some taxpayer funding without violating free speech rights? So if a group of students demanded equal access and funding for Pedophilia Week, Klan Week, White Supremacist Week, Antifa Week, Nazi Week, or Blackface Week, then the university would blithely go along with it on similar free speech grounds? Or, would they use common sense and say ‘Uh, NO!’ like any reasonable institution.
“Well the university officials may have been the ones facing the music on Wednesday, both they and the Comptroller’s Office that developed a long list of suggested responses, appeared to have been dancing all around the issue with intricate dodges and twisting contortions,” Gill said. “If this year’s Sex Week includes a dance contest, both groups should be favored to win trophies.”
Interim University President Randy Boyd, according to a story by WVLT, said:
“The University of Tennessee does not support or condone Sex Week,” said Boyd. “We believe it has hurt the reputation of the University of Tennessee and distracted from our students and their accomplishments… We expressly do not condone salacious or inappropriate programming,” said Boyd.
“To our students: We are not censoring you,” Boyd continued.
The Comptroller’s Office said its report includes 14 policy considerations from minor changes to campus policy to an outright ban on the event. Some may have legal implications.
The university’s leadership announced its reactions to the Comptroller’s report. That response is available here.
Interim Chancellor Wayne T. Davis said:
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.
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