The board at Tennessee State University was entirely vacated on Thursday evening after a vote by Tennessee House Republicans, and Gov. Bill Lee signed the legislation into law. Republicans pointed to financial issues at TSU over the years, while Democrats highlighted a discrepancy as the result of years of underfunding by the state.

A $2 million external forensic audit, commissioned by legislators and released on Thursday, found no instances of fraud or malfeasance at the HBCU. However, it did note an unsustainable 250% increase in scholarships between 2019 and 2023. This led to an enrollment boom, triggering a housing shortage on campus.

Democrats noted the historic underfunding of TSU, the only HBCU in the state, which hindered its ability to succeed compared to predominantly white institutions. The Department of Education and Agriculture recently found that TSU was underfunded by $2.1 billion over the last 30 years, the largest amount in the country.

“Tennessee State University was denied those resources, and because they were denied the resources there were problems that occurred,” Democratic Rep. Justin Pearson said, according to The Tennessean. “But instead of us rectifying the problems that we created through racist policies by underfunding Tennessee State University, we’re now advocating to vacate their board.”

“The committee I chair gave them multiple opportunities and an extended period of time, which I personally carried bills for, to settle those discrepancies. They did not make satisfactory progress. That is the source of this bill,” Republican Rep. John Ragan argued. “If in fact those corrective actions had been taken in a timely fashion, this bill would not be before us. I encourage you to make the effort to look up at that audit report.”

Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell said that vacating the board at TSU was telling the institution to “sit down and shut up and accept the crumbs we send you.”

TSU called out the decision to vacate its board, noting an “unprecedented” decision that will “disrupt our students’ educational pursuits, harm the image of the University, and remove a Board that had achieved success in its enhanced governance of TSU.”

“TSU would undoubtedly be in a different position today if it had received the funds promised by the state over the course of the last three decades,” TSU said in a statement. “While we are very disappointed by today’s vote, we will continue to work with the General Assembly and the Governor’s office to pursue options, both in funding and governance, that allow TSU to continue the momentum it has achieved in enrollment, research, academics and providing great opportunities for students.”