Sunday, March 9, 2014

Wrecking Balls: Campfield's SB 1608 and 2493

Hello world.  I'm new to blogging, but I was inspired to give it a shot after a recent exchange with Senator Stacey Campfield (R-TN), who represents the University of Tennessee, where I have been a professor for 18 years. Out of both frustration and a desire to educate others, I posted that exchange on my facebook page, and it proved to be very popular. With the bills going forward this week and Sen. Campfield up for re-election this fall, I felt that I should share it with a wider audience.

First, let me offer a little background on the exchange that follows. Campfield has been the sponsor of several questionable pieces of legislation, including the "Don't Say Gay" bill, a bill that would require school officials to inform parents if their children are gay, and reducing welfare payments to families whose children are not doing well in school. In light of these past efforts, Campfield's current bills, SB 1608 (which would allocate funds for university speakers by "proportional" membership in various groups, also known as the "size matters" bill) and SB 2493, a more comprehensive bill that would eliminate and ban all university money for speakers, might seem like garden-variety, anti-intellectual hostility to universities.  But as with so many other pieces of his legislation, these bills were motivated by objections to "Sex Week," a sex education week at UT that happened this past week. Sex Week seems to represent what Campfield fears most: the free exchange of ideas and perspectives, protected by the First Amendment. That fear is so great that he is sponsoring a bill to shut down money for all speakers; were it in effect, UT would not have had visits from Tom Brokow, Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O'Connor, Bill Nye, Dr. Paul Farmer, and a host of other luminaries from architecture to zoology. No one would agree with every single speaker; indeed, I know no one who has the time to go to every speaker who comes to campus. The point is that UT is a university and hosts a vast array of conversations, with specialists from many fields. Hosting a range of conversations is part of what a university should be doing.

I contacted Campfield along with other TN Senators to express  my concern about these two very shortsighted bills, and I received these replies from Senator Campfield.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am a professor of 18th-century literature and culture, so Campfield was somewhat ill-advised to include a decontextualized quotation from Thomas Jefferson, which he appears to have found on BrainyQuotes or some such site.

And now, the email exchange:

Dear Senators,
I write to you as a parent of a college student as well as of a middle schooler, as a Tennessean, and as a teacher to ask you to oppose SB1608 and SB2493. These bills are far too sweeping and undermine the project of inquiry, First Amendment rights, and the kind of professional development we try to offer our students at UT.  Just this academic year, for instance, we were able to host Tom Brokaw.  Two of my students had the opportunity to interview him about his career as a journalist, and he was generous with both his advice and time.  This was a crucial professional development opportunity that would have been completely unavailable to them under the terms of these bills.  

Students at UT have chances to weigh in on what kinds of speakers and activities take place, they have chances to participate in a wide array of learning opportunities, and to debate with significant voices in a range of cultural conversations: novelists, political scientists, religious leaders, philosophers, business innovators, and more.  That is as it should be.  It's part of the strength of our American education system, and it encourages students to debate, develop their perspectives, and become better citizens. Please don't take that away from them.

I realize, Senator Campfield, that you are the sponsor of both of these bills, but I'm including you in my appeal nonetheless. I urge you especially to reconsider your position and to consider the free and secure future of UT.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.  I will be watching with great interest to see how you all vote, and I implore you to vote down both bills.

Misty Anderson

On Mar 8, 2014, at 11:04 AM, Stacey Campfield wrote:

While I support diversity of thought at the university. What is currently in place is not diversity. Sadly, when you look at a list of the paid speakers for the university the vast majority are from one point of view and balancing points of view are minimized.

Truly, more balance is needed.  The current committee that decides who gets funding is @35-4  from one point of view. And they fund accordingly. The current system also does not allow for changes to the committee because new members to the committee are picked by the current members on the committee. It is impossible for diverse points of view to get a fair hearing. Instead, It is "two lions and a lamb deciding on what to have for dinner." That is not a system that creates a diverse menu. In fact it eats the minority points of view.

To make sure all points of view get a fair opportunity to be funded I have proposed two bills.

The first would say all fees for optional political type speakers should be optional to join or not. No one should be forced to pay for speech they find objectionable. Current student tuition and fees are high enough. People are graduating in incredible debt. There is no need to heap insult on top of injury. If they wish to hear speakers let them decide by joining and paying the speakers fee. If not, they should not be forced to do what they find objectionable. Forced speech is not free speech. It is the oposite.

As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said I couldn't agree more.


If a student wishes to pay the optional student activity fee for speakers then those fees should be dolled out on a fair basis so all points of view get a fair hearing. To do this, I think the best way is to allow the students themselves to decide by joining clubs that interest them and allowing funding to be dolled out on membership basis. That way, if say college Democrats have 50 members and college Republicans have 50 members both would receive a fair share of the funding. If it were to tilt to 60/40 democrat leaning, the democrats would receive a larger proportion but not a 100% per portion. Diverse points of view would be heard and have a fair shot at receiving funding.

As I have said from the beginning, I still stand ready to negotiate the system details but leaving things as they currently are is a non starter. We need diversity of thought and not tyranny in action.

Yours in service,

Sen. Stacey Campfield

On Mar 8, 2014, at 12:12:09 PM EST, "" wrote:

Dear Senator Campfield,
With all due respect, I had a hard time following your reply because it was full of sentence fragments that did not make clear how one idea flowed from and logically gave rise to another.

Your claim that the current committee is "35-4 from one point of view" is a mystery to me.  What is that one point of view? And how is it that you can claim that the vast majority of speakers on campus are "from one point of view" when they have addressed so many different issues and topics? How can one say that points of view are to be calculated? Most thinking people hold a range of points of view on many subjects.  Are you alluding to two-party politics? If so, I would submit that such a designation hardly summarizes all possible points of view, and to imagine a world where it does is deeply disturbing to me as a citizen and an educator.

You then say that all fees "for optional political type speakers should be optional." How are we to determine what speakers are political and which speakers are not?  Was Tom Brokaw political? Is a visiting novelist like Elizabeth Gilbert political?  How would we calculate the "interest" represented by such speakers? I would hate to restrict that representation to the number of journalists or novelists in the student body. The bill pertains to all speakers, who can hardly be screened only on their party affiliation.  But on that subject, let me offer an analogous question: I often find your speech objectionable, yet my tax dollars fund your salary.  May I opt out of paying the portion of your salary that I pay, particularly since your speech is not only objectionable to me but has binding consequences on my life as a citizen, unlike open debates in which I can choose to participate or not?

What was it that Thomas Jefferson said?  Because that sentence is actually a fragment and not a complete sentence, it is not at all clear. I am  not being a mere grammarian about this fact; it is significant because it is fundamental to clear meaning. Thomas Jefferson said many things I cherish as examples of wise and thoughtful statesmanship, in spite of his actions as a slaveholder.  Here are a few of my favorites:
    "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
    "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people.  They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."
    "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
    "Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."
I would hope that we could find a zone of agreement on this important Enlightenment thinker, who was a staunch supporter of both education and free speech.

To conclude, I am writing back to you because I am distressed both by your approach to micromanaging the process of speakers at UT and other universities and your failure to comprehend the consequences of your own bills, which seem to have more in common with a totalitarian nation's approach, rather than a free country's approach, to public discourse.  Curiously, you claim the opposite is true, calling the current system "forced speech" and even "tyranny in action."  But you, sir, are the one in the governing position.  I would suggest you reconsider the language of tyranny and how it reflects on your own position in the legislature.

Misty G. Anderson

On Mar 8, 2014, at 12:49 PM, Stacey Campfield wrote:
To compel a man to furnish money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical

March 8, 2014 2:00:02 PM EST

Dear Senator Campfield,
Context, so often, is everything.  The short quotation you have pulled is from Jefferson's 1779 Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (not passed until 1786), which was an argument for more free speech, as well as freedom of religion, by prohibiting the state support of the clergy and state tests for office based on religion or lack thereof. Accordingly, it proposed that "the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical" not "assume dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible."  Jefferson's own position as a Deist inclined him strongly to realize that both the state and the church can conspire to compel and restrict speech and behavior in ways that are anathema to free people.  I quote the 3 sections of the act for your convenience, with some of the more relevant selections bolded:

 SECTION I. Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
SECT. II. WE the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
SECT. III. AND though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Misty G. Anderson
Professor of English


  1. Great work, Misty. State Senator Campfield has consistently had one and only one agenda: promoting publicity for Stacey Campfield.

    1. Hopefully, the swirl (and swill) of this publicity will only highlight the need to replace this thought-policeman who represents mainly himself.

  2. Wonderful, Misty. But Campfield has no interest in education or anything else other than be able to say he has gotten a rise from the faculty, which shows to his peers that he is right and ready for higher office. What we need is to support a viable candidate to oppose him in the next election.

  3. Thank you for being brilliant and eloquent, and most of all, for standing up for UT students, faculty, and the wider Knoxville community. My pen as my sword, I'm ready to fight alongside you and others who support freedom of speech and diversity of opinion.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Thank you very much Misty for standing up for all of us at UT. You did a great jod.

  6. Thanks, folks. I don't have any illusions that I will change the Senator's mind, but I hope that others who might be lurking on the sidelines or entertaining the notion that the Senator has a tenable position here might be listening.

  7. Shame on you, Misty ... You engaged in a battle of wits with an unarmed man! ;)

    (Thank you for providing the rope needed for his self-hanging)

  8. AHAHAHAAH!!!! That was terrific. Thanks for calling the Senator out!

  9. Here's a slightly different perspective from the other comments you've received so far. I certainly agree that the Senator doesn't do the best job of explaining his position, but I think the underlying motivation is a perception that the process we (UT) currently use for deciding which speakers get funding is not fair to all points of view. Certainly it's true that many of the speakers most highly publicized (e.g., those associated with the Sex Week event) come from what could loosely be characterized as a left-of-center perspective - it would be hard to argue otherwise. So maybe the university could offer to re-examine (internally) how funds for speakers are allocated. For example, is the Senator's claim that only current members of a committee that picks featured speakers can.nominate their own replacements true? If so, that would be an easy thing to open up, and it seems that would serve everyone's best interests. Rather than just lash out at the Senator for trying to interfere with University matters, maybe we could do a little introspection to see if there's changes we could make ourselves that would promote a wider range of perspectives in the speakers we fund. Perhaps some internal changes that led to such a result would be enough to diffuse support for these bills.

  10. The texts of the bills can be found at and at Copy and paste the URLs. The first bill would, I think, require student organizations to keep their speakers' budget separate from the rest of their budget, and would allocate speaker money (though not the rest of their budgets) in proportion to organizational membership numbers, seemingly without regard to how many speakers any organization actually wants to host. The second would prohibit any paid guest speakers at any Tennessee institution of higher education at all, except for a) those already under contract, and b) professors from public institutions who are brought in as guest lecturers in classes. So, no paying for speakers from private universities, no paying for public intellectuals or journalists or politicians or judges, no paying for comedians or celebrity chefs or famous athletes or coaches at student events, and no paying for commencement speakers or class-day speakers or convocation speakers or Phi Beta Kappa speakers. In the next week (using only events listed on the online UT campus events calendar and assuming these speakers are being paid an honorarium or are at least being reimbursed their travel expenses) the proposed policy, if it were in place and these speakers not "grandfathered," would prevent the delivery of the Hill Lecture by Wall Street Journal science writer Ron Winslow; the delivery of the Eugene P. Wigner Distinguished Lecture Series in Science, Technology, and Policy by Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; a talk by Nashville-based artist Adrienne Outlaw on her artwork; and a seminar to be conducted by Randy Swaty of the Nature Conservancy.

  11. Jeffrey, I agree that introspection is a worthwhile thing for any organization, but legislating binding procedures on the university is a very different and dangerous business. As Stephen Latham's post above illustrates, the second bill would wipe out all speakers. The first bill, to which you allude in your post, might not, but it would still require some allocation methodology that leaves me bewildered as to how to classify the four speakers slated for this week and what would be gained by doing so. The implicit assumption is that there is a simple right/left dichotomy into which all these speakers fit, and that in itself distorts the entire project of inquiry and free speech that our universities are intended to model. I recommend my colleague Joan Heminway's recent OpEd piece on the subject,, as well as Jeff Kovak's brief and punchy "Opt-In" letter in today's Beacon, the UT Student newspaper, at for those in search of further reading. Thanks to all who have and will chime in. I hope that this whole exchange can be part of cultivating space for civic (and civil) engagement.

  12. I received the same response from Sen. Campfield, and though my response is not nearly as eloquent as the Professor's I think it answered some of the Senator's objections. He did not respond.

    "If it is as you say, isn't it then a better solution is to give the students more say so in who decides how the money is distributed, not the legislators. Have them vote for committee members, or have every sanctioned club on campus have a representative on that committee, or find some other way to ensure that the committee is diverse. Perhaps check with public institutions in other states to see how they have handled this situation. Having them opt out of student fees is akin to allowing me to opt out of taxes because I don't like the way that you all are allocating funds. In fact paying taxes is the perfect analogy to what you are saying regarding these funds, since our family tax bill is astonishing, what we get for it dwindles each year, I have very little say in how it is allocated, and I rarely agree with the final decision. I would love to opt out of paying those because the programs the government uses them for do very little to benefit me.

    As a side note, student are not forced to attend any event they find objectionable, so the "forced free speech is not free speech at all" doesn't really apply. And in fact the bill that you have proposed to discontinue funding for outside speakers will do more to squelch free speech, and present diversity of opinion, than paying a student fee does.

    I wonder if you have evidence that funds were not allocated to an organization that went through the proper application process? Some proof that the programs of "the lamb" are not being served? Wouldn't giving money to groups commiserate to membership size do the exact opposite of what you are saying you are trying to do? Minority groups would have zero chance of getting funds. Have you considered the unintended consequences of your bills?

    I think you are "cutting off your nose despite your face" as my grandmother would say. Because you are opposed to a few of the events out of 30 or 40 that the SEAT committee put on, you are willing to destroy a system that really you have no control over in order to try to prevent that event from happening again. It smacks of a purely political move.

    One of the reasons that I am a Republican is that I believe that less government is better government. In this instance you are trying to regulate something that does not need to be regulated by the government, when there are legitimate things that government has an important role to play a part in and you are wasting taxpayers time and money in the process, and frankly flying in the face of what the Republican party stands for which is less regulation. It is disheartening to me how far the party seems to be moving from its ideals and principles.

    I am afraid that I don't feel like the legislature should have any hand in this at all. This doesn't effect any state tax money. And it is pretty transparent that you simply oppose Sex Week, which I am sure that if you would actually take the time to understand, you would actually be able to support. You are creating an issue where there were zero complaints, by the chancellor's own admission. I believe that "tyranny in action" is actually a better descriptor of your actions than that student body's actions. Again, I would ask you to get on to issues of greater importance to the state and its citizens, perhaps homelessness or job creation or any number of issues that I am sure your constituents voted you into office for, and to leave this non-issue to the University, as I honestly believe you are about to make the situation worse.

  13. Misty: I agree that micromanaging how the University allocates funds for speakers is not an appropriate roll for the legislature, and I think the idea of the second bill (banning funding for all speakers except faculty from other public universities) is just silly. My only point was that in addition to pushing back against this legislation, we should also consider that it was probably motivated by some external perceptions about us that we probably don't want to have. If the community-at-large starts to think of UT as a hotbed of "crazy liberals" who use their tuition and tax money to fund other "crazy liberals" to come and preach to the converted, that's not going to serve us well in the long run. If the Senator is right about there being some kind of rigged system for selecting which speakers are funded, and the result is that only a subset of perspectives end up making the roster, we should fix that problem. But yes, I completely agree with you that this is not a proper subject for legislation. Part of me wonders if the Senator intentionally put forward an "over the top" bill knowing it would never pass, just to make the point that we need to think about some of these issues more. Kind of a "clean up your process or we'll do it for you" warning.

    1. Jeffrey -- I see your point but given the senator's track record on these issues, I believe that this is giving him far too much credit.

  14. I appreciate your beautifully written attempts to reason with an idiot, but feel compelled to point out the obvious: one can't.

    Stacey Campfield is an utter embarrassment to the state of Tennessee, and the sooner the voters in east TN remove him from office, the better.

    Expecting him to suddenly "see the light" in response to reasoned, intelligent debate is like hoping the village idiot will take notes while you point out his problems. He's shown no genuine interest in pesky ol' facts, and until his ilk are removed from the General Assembly we'll continue to be fodder for late night comics everywhere.

  15. "Out of both frustration and a desire to educate others [...]

    First, let me offer a little background on the exchange that follows. Campfield has been the sponsor of several questionable pieces of legislation, including the "Don't Say Gay" bill, a bill that would require school officials to inform parents if their children are gay,"

    The effort to educate is laudable, but the bill says no such thing. Teachers are not only not required to report on students, they're expressly allowed to respond and answer students' questions. That's quite the opposite.

    The bill's premise is that schools ought not, in the course of imparting basic skills, indoctrinate helpless young children with irrelevant controversial social views their parents may or may not approve of.

  16. And for those still following this issue, Sen. Campfield withdrew his bills today!