As the Tennessee legislative session opens, I want to remind you of our legal responsibilities as state employees and provide some insights into the efforts of our government relations office.
Political Participation and Advocacy as a UT Employee
First, recollect that you are welcome and even encouraged to write to your local house and senate representatives to voice your opinion about any bill on the docket or anything on your mind. You can connect with others as well, although, typically, legislators listen most closely to their own constituents. You must do so, however, as private citizens – not as representatives of the University of Tennessee. According to UT Policy GE003, you are allowed to state your thoughts and opinions, but they must not be conveyed as representing the university.
When communicating with representatives, you should not use UT computers, email, or stationary, which all represent the university. I have a Gmail account for this purpose, for example.
You are welcome to write opinion pieces, be interviewed by news media, or otherwise communicate your thoughts and opinions publicly. If they are relevant to the discussion, you can state your qualifications, but you cannot say your thoughts and opinions represent UT.
UT Government Relations
There are going to be some contentious bills proposed this session. According to Carey Whitworth, VP for UT Government Relations and Advocacy, only about 10% of the 300 or so bills proposed each year ever move forward in the process – first, getting on a committee’s calendar for discussion, then getting out of committee to go to the other chamber for discussion, and come up for a vote.
If you are going to get involved, you may want to follow what is going on to understand what bills are most likely bills to get out of committee and where to put your maximum effort. UT Advocates is a group of thousands of alumni, employees, students, and friends who connect people to the legislative process and support UT priorities. Learn more about this group.
Please know that the UT Government Relations team is tracking and intensively interacting with legislators on those bills that are critical to UT.
Budget for Buildings
We have already had a set-back this year, but it is not fatal. The governor did not include any of the THEC-recommended building projects for universities in the budget, including our chemistry building, which a couple months ago seemed a very likely funding item.
Due to the extreme position of adding no funding to any university’s infrastructure, UT upper administration and our government relations team are putting great effort into meeting with legislators who can decide to add funding for the chemistry building to the budget. The budget is not finished until April and typically, I’m told, about 10% of the budget is decided by the legislators.
So buckle up, it will be a bumpy ride.
On a happier note, I do hope that you and your students are having a good semester. We are already three weeks into it, but only a month away from Spring Break!
Thank you for all you do for our college.
Theresa M. Lee
Herbert Family Dean
College of Arts and Sciences