Vice Chancellor of Student Life Vincent Carilli held a meeting with a group of hand-picked student leaders regarding the Student Programming Allocation Committee (SPAC) on Tuesday, July 17. 

Student leaders present at the meeting were guaranteed anonymity and were sworn to secrecy, meaning the topics of discussion in the room were to stay in the room. Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Life and Dean of Students Shea Kidd Houze was also present at the meeting. 

Carilli confirmed the meeting discussed “a host of items related to SPAC” in an email Friday, July 20. 

The meeting didn't sit well with senior studying nursing Austin Smith, who broke the details of the meeting in a Tweet on Wednesday, July 18. 

“My classmates come before anything else,” the Tweet said. “Always.” 

After breaking the news, Smith said “swift steps were taken to reprimand (him) within the hour” and caused him to resign as the 2018-2019 Student Government Association (SGA) Chief of Staff. Smith announced this on his Twitter as well. 

“I will never regret this tweet or the conversations that led up to it,” Smith said in the Tweet. “I only regret that we couldn’t bring more seats to the table.”

“Transparency is a chronic issue for SGA but being asked to keep a meeting about SPSF (Student Programming and Services Fee) and SPAC a secret from our other branches, student body, and friends was too much for me,” Smith said. “For the sake of transparency, I decided to form my twitter statement about the meeting.” 

SPAC struggles during the spring semester 

SPAC was created to determine how funds from the Student Programming and Services Fee (SPSF) are used and distributed. In order to do this, student organizations apply to receive funding for specific events during each semester, fall and spring. 

On March 6, the SGA Senate took a unanimous straw poll in favor of a reallocation of $190,000 from student programming funds to a student organization travel budget. Student programming funds come from the $19.46 charge from each opted-in student. 

In order to protect students from funding events they do not support, a 2014 Tennessee Legislature request allows students to have two options for deciding how the university spends the money. Students who choose to opt in (option 1) allow the university to use the fee for student programming on campus, and, in turn, those students receive free access or discounted admission to all student programming such as Vol Night Long and guest speakers. Students who choose to opt out (option 2) tell the university to use the fee for initiatives and events that are not student-led. 

Student programmers and numerous SGA Senators were concerned when the straw poll finalized the reallocation following Spring Break. Typically straw polls are considered a gauge as to the general climate of an idea. Many did not know the details or dollar amount when voting in the straw poll. 

A Senate open town hall was organized for March 27 with around 50 students from various organizations, including CEB, Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT) and the Women's Coordinating Council (WCC) present. 

“We truly did not get enough information when we were asked to make that straw poll decision,” Senator Mateos Hayes, junior studying history, said at the March 27 meeting. “That's very concerning to me that it was automatically taken that that straw poll was an unequivocal expression of the student government Senate's support for this measure because it was not that by any perspective.”

One of the topics of the conversation centered around an email exchange between Carilli and student Emma Heins, junior studying environmental sciences, regarding the reallocation. 

After contacting Carilli via email to address the reallocation, a response from Carilli soon circulated among student programming members. The email described the initial message from Heins as “bombastic” and suggested the behavior was “unbecoming of an involved student leader on (UT's) campus.”

Since the travel's fund's conception, Carilli has struggled to gain footing with students regarding SPAC, but said he thought the July 17 meeting was a step in the right direction. 

“It was a productive meeting with involved students,” Carilli said in his email on July 20. “We hope to continue the conversation moving forward.” 

What we know about Tuesday's meeting 

Smith, who was only included in the call to help a close friend attend over conference call, was “disappointed” when he wasn't originally included in the meeting. As Chief of Staff, Smith helps the SGA president form Administrative Committees, including the student portion of SPAC. 

“Earlier this summer, I had spent several hours forming the 20 plus committees, including SPAC,” Smith said. “I was told by the SGA President to hold off on finalizing SPAC because the administration planned to scrap the current committee and restructure it.” 

Once the meeting began, Smith said Carilli asked students to not record the conversations and to keep the conversation between those in the room. 

“One of my issues with this is that nearly every person in the meeting was a student elected by their respective constituents to engage in conversations about student issues,” Smith said. “As a student representative, I have nothing to hide when it comes to discussing the interests of my peers; though I cannot speak for my fellow student representatives in the room, I do not believe that they do either.” 

Conversation during the meeting centered on 12 concerns from the University community, according to Smith. Those concerns were outlined via a document provided to meeting attendees by Carilli. 

The concerns were “associated with the allocation of SPSF funds via the SPAC process in recent years,” the document said. Listed concerns were as follows: the equitable distribution of the fees among registered student organizations; the excessive costs of select programs; the calculated cost of attendance, per participant; the use of SPSF funds for controversial speakers/events; the “earmark” of SPSF funds for select student programming boards; CEB's use of approximately 1/3 of its entire budget on Volapalooza; the annual duplication of “similar” programming; the interpretation of the criteria used to allocate SPSF funds; the composition of the SPAC; the complicated nature of the SPAC process for applying for funds for student-organized programming; the cycle of the allocation process (fall & spring semesters); and, whether SPSF funds should be used at all to fund student-organized programming. 

Long and short-term solutions for SPAC were also discussed at the meeting. One of the short-term solutions included getting fall semester funding distributed as soon as possible, but Smith says the funds have still yet to be distributed one week later. 

Smith said throughout conversation “the administration's lack of citing student concern” made it clear that the grievances were “of lawmakers and parents.” Citing the legal side and the practical side of SPSF, Smith said Carilli cited parents' obsession with the practical side as events like Sex Week go against their beliefs, morals and religions. 

“Several times I found myself redirecting the conversation back to focusing on students because Dr. Carilli would be going on some tangent about hard it is to explain to parents and lawmakers why we allow Sex Week and other programming on campus,” Smith said. 

Sex Week under fire

Sex Week has been a highly debated event following its start in 2012. Organized by SEAT, Sex Week was almost canceled its first year, as the event was defunded just a week prior to the event. 

When SPAC funding was moved to create the travel fund, junior studying sociology and women's gender and sexuality studies Cole Tipton spoke at the SGA Town Hall against the reallocation. 

“So, this is what it looks like again,” Tipton said at the town hall. “It's another chance for higher powers to injure student voices that they don't like on this campus.”

The university came under fire just a week after the meeting when Franklin Graham, missionary and son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, shared an article on April 6 by Todd Starnes with Fox News which reprimanded the university for hosting Sex Week. Graham also showed his own displeasure for Sex Week and urged his followers to send emails to former Chancellor Beverly Davenport. 

“I think pastors across this great state should speak out against it, and I hope Governor Bill Haslam will step in and make sure the group responsible is no longer allowed to do their damage at UT,” Graham said in the post. 

Graham’s followers delivered with over 100 emails sent to Davenport from donors, parents and alumni. The Daily Beacon obtained copies of these emails with a FOIA request. 

A donor emailed Davenport on April 13 and said she wasn’t sure if the University would see another one of her kids if Sex Week continued. 

“I’ve entrusted the education of my oldest child to the University of Tennessee,” the email said. “I’m not sure I’ll send any of my others if this continues.” 

Another parent refused to send her daughter to UT for the fall 2019 semester, even though UT was one of the top three on her daughter’s list. 

“She is a hardworking and extremely artistic student who would have been a great asset to your school,” the email said. “However, I cannot, with good conscience, allow my daughter to attend a school with such low moral values and with such a lack of self-respect and dignity.”

Although it is unclear how the reallocation will affect student programming, The Daily Beacon will continue to report changes in the distribution of SPSF funding and changes in SPAC. 

This article has been corrected to state that "Option 1" fees give students free access and discounted admission to student-led events. 

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