Tennessee HBCU Students Consult Attorney Ben Crump on $2.1B Underfunding

The state of Tennessee owes Tennessee State University $2.1 billion. Student leaders are pressuring the state to receive the university's funding by consulting civil rights attorney Ben Crump on their next move.
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Published on October 23, 2023
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  • The Biden administration sent letters to 16 state governors saying they owe a collective $12 billion to their respective state HBCUs. Tennessee owed the largest amount at $2.1 billion.
  • Student leaders have consulted with Congressional Black Caucus members in Washington D.C. and created a petition to support TSU.
  • Last year, six Florida A&M students sued the state for underfunding the university. Florida owes over $1.9 billion to the university, according to the letters.

Student leaders at Tennessee State University (TSU) are consulting attorney Ben Crump to find the best way to get the $2.1 billion the state of Tennessee owes the historically Black college and University (HBCU).

Crump has represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Trayvon Martin.

Two student government members, a student trustee member, and Mister and Miss TSU met with Crump on Oct. 3 to discuss the $2.1 billion in underfunding by the state discovered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Education (ED).

"If the state refuses to provide the owed funds, students and alumni will have to do what is best for TSU, and these students are adamant about their next steps to address this unjustifiable inequity," Crump said.

The USDA and ED sent letters on Sept. 18 to 16 state governors saying their respective states owe a collective $12 billion to their HBCUs. TSU held the largest amount owed, at $2,147,784,704.

"This enormous figure of over $2.1 billion can't be overlooked," TSU President Glenda Glover previously said. "We have been on our own journey to recoup $544 million from the State that TSU should have received, as required by law, and were not aware of an additional underfunding review by the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture prior to the release of those letters."

Later that month, on Sept. 26, TSU Student Government President Derrell Taylor, Vice President Chrishonda O'Quinn, Mister TSU Davin Latiker, and Miss TSU Victoria McCrae visited Washington D.C. to seek advice and support with Congressional Black Caucus members.

"It is unfortunate that we have to fight this battle," Taylor said in a press release. "But I am proud to stand before these legislators, activists, and key community figures to express how disheartening it is for students to realize how much more of an experience we could have had if we had been allocated the necessary funding."

TSU's student leaders are using community opportunities like homecoming, featuring the Grammy award-winning TSU Aristocrat of Bands, to keep the "$2Billion: We've Been Cheated" campaign at the top of students' minds.

"During homecoming week, student leadership intends to post and distribute fact sheets about the underfunding issue," O'Quinn said in The Tennessee Tribune. "The fact sheets will be distributed in the campus center, during the parade, the pep rally, and at most of high traffic areas and events. I will also give this information to the organizations for them to distribute and post on their social media platforms."

Allies can also sign the "$2Billion: We've Been Cheated" petition with over 710 signatures, calling Gov. Bill Lee to bring all parties together to create a timeline for repayment.

"I often ponder how much greater the impact might have been with greater resources. Equitable funding can only attempt to reconcile a blemished past," Glover said previously. "However, equitable funding can absolutely enhance the global contributions of future Tennessee State University students and alumni."

Last year, six students from HBCU Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) sued the state of Florida, claiming that these funding practices "… have prevented HBCUs, including FAMU, from achieving parity with their traditionally White institution ('TWI') counterparts."

According to the Sept. letter from the USDA and ED, the state of Florida owes FAMU over $1.9 billion.