- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Republican leaders in the state Senate are warning that new funding for the University of Tennessee could be threatened over the use of student fees for a weeklong program about sex.

Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham of Somerville and Government Operations Chairman Mike Bell of Riceville in a letter to university leaders Wednesday took issue with the use of fees for the student-run Sex Week at the state’s flagship public university in Knoxville.

“Certainly, the university must understand that Tennessee taxpayers are not anxious for their legislature to appropriate new funds to this university when they see abuse of monies being used for this purpose,” the letter said.

UT President Joe DiPietro disagreed with the criticism.

“Based on advice from counsel at our university and our situation with the First Amendment and having to stay within the bounds of it, at this point we’ve not had any indication from anybody that there’s an obscenity situation at all in this program,” he said.

But DiPietro said the school would hold discussions with lawmakers to avoid financial penalties.

“We need to work with them, we’ve not stopped negotiating with them and talking to them,” he said. “But again we have a First Amendment issue here and we feel that we are within the bounds of it to do what we have to do.”

The Senate letter follows a 69-17 vote in the House last month to condemn the student organizers of the event.

Later Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee voted 7-1 for a condemning resolution.

Sen. Stacey Campfield supported the measure, but the Knoxville Republican said he didn’t think it was strong enough and that he has legislation with more teeth.

“I pretty much feel most resolutions are worth about the paper they’re written on,” he said. “They’re virtually worthless. They have no effective law.”

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AP Writer Lucas L. Johnson II contributed to this story.

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