Lawmakers once again turn attention to UT's Sex Week

Friday, February 15, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 7

NASHVILLE (AP) — The University of Tennessee could do more to address concerns raised by conservative lawmakers surrounding a student-led program known as Sex Week, a new state comptroller report found on Wednesday.

However, the 269-page analysis also noted the General Assembly's continued dismayed criticism surrounding the event may have backfired now that student leaders have since described the Legislature's focus on the week-long program and subsequent media attention as "free advertising."

"Reducing the amount of attention given to an event involving small numbers of students (both in its planning and attendance), would arguably help lessen the controversy," the report said.

Comptroller Justin Wilson's office released the report Wednesday after getting a request to research the Knoxville-based event by legislative leaders.

The report listed 14 possible options —ranging from ignoring the event to risking a lawsuit by outright banning the event — the university could take but office stressed that it was not issuing formal recommendations. The report also noted that similar Sex Week programs are held across Tennessee college campuses, but the Knoxville event has sparked the more ire due to its popularity.

"Let's get down to the most basic: Sex is a part of life," Wilson told a legislative panel on Wednesday while discussing the report. "There's not a single one of us who wouldn't be here today without sex. It's appropriate to study sex at a university, but how we approach this topic raises questions."

Sex Week, which has been held every year since 2013, is organized by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee where the public is invited to attend free sexual-education seminars and other activities. According to the report, the student group has been unwilling to compromise with the university on suggestions to "tone it down."

Over the years, lawmakers have held hearings about the event and Franklin Graham even weighed in by criticizing the event on his Facebook page last year. In 2016, lawmakers passed a bill banning state funds from being used for Sex Week, although the report added that there's been some confusion about indirect costs — such as facility usage.

A reader advisory was tucked inside the report while detailing the names of the seminars hosted by Sex Week.

In response to the report, University of Tennessee interim President Randy Boyd promised that he will work to implement several changes over the next year when it comes to using student fees and charging student organizations for use of facilities.

"While we want to support students, we also recognize that 'Sex Week' has caused frustration and embarrassment for legislators, alumni, many Tennessee citizens, and for us as administrators at UT, and we and the Board are committed to rectifying this," Boyd said in a letter to the comptroller's office.