National free speech watchdog condemns UT action after Sex Week report

Published: Feb. 19, 2019 at 2:41 PM EST
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A report from the State Comptroller said that Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, the group that organizes UT Sex Week, "received the highest allocation of student activity fee funds, including about $29,000 in both 2016-17 and 2017-18."

The report alleges that "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"

Interim University President Randy Boyd spoke on behalf of the University regarding the event.

"We want to be perfectly clear, the University of Tennessee does not condone or support the sensational and explicit programming that Sex Week has often provided," said Boyd. "We believe it has damaged the reputation and overshadowed the many achievements of our University."

"To our students, we are not censoring you, nor impeding your right of free speech," Boyd continued.

Sex Week is funded by private fundraising, gift funds from Alumni and other donors, and the Student Programming Allocation Committee (SPAC) according to the report.

SPAC's funding for University Campus Programming is provided by students who choose to "opt-in" to student events.

The comptroller'a report cited concerns about SPAC's processes for choosing which student organizations get approved for funding. During the report, Comptroller Justin P. Wilson pointed out that a Christian organization was denied all funding requested for a campus event, while SEAT has been consistently approved.

Randy Boyd said during his response to the report, that SPAC would no longer continue to allocate funds at the University.

WVLT News reached out to organizers of Sex Week for a response but have not yet heard back from them.

FIRE, a national free speech watchdog, issued a statement in reaction to the report and Boyd's remarks on behalf of the University saying:

"The University of Tennessee’s leadership threw student organizations under the bus. Their decision to end student group funding will silence a multitude of student voices on campus simply because members of Tennessee’s legislature disapprove of the message of one student organization. Depressingly, the university traded its prior defense of students’ expressive rights for unquestioning obedience to state legislators — and it doesn’t appear to have any plan to replace its current system. UT’s careening, leap-before-you-look gambit was implemented solely to prevent the predictable, perennial criticism of state legislators in advance of this year’s Sex Week. UT has sacrificed a constitutional funding mechanism in favor of political expediency."