Monday, July 20, 2015

Council to Review Ban on Sale of 'Body Parts of Aborted Babies'

Posted By on Mon, Jul 20, 2015 at 11:01 AM

A scene from this year's Women's March on Nashville. - HEALTHY & FREE TENNESSEE
  • Healthy & Free Tennessee
  • A scene from this year's Women's March on Nashville.


The Memphis City Council will review a resolution Tuesday to outlaw the “sale of organs and body parts of aborted babies.”

The resolution follows a YouTube video that surfaced last week from an anti-abortion group that said the video proves that Planned Parenthood sells fetal organs for a profit. Planned Parenthood refutes the claim and said it does harvest fetal organs but only on a volunteer basis and only for donation to medical science.

Many have said the video was edited to make a case against Planned Parenthood. The original video, created by the California-based Center for Medical Progress, is nearly three hours long and has been viewed almost 170,000 times. It was edited to an eight-minute version, which has been viewed more than 2.4 million times.

Boyd
  • Boyd
The Memphis City Council resolution is sponsored by Cordova council member Bill Boyd. It reads, in part, “the Memphis City Council is utterly outraged over reports that the aborted remains of babies are allegedly sold like commodities on the open market for profit by certain clinics and facilities that are violating the law and disregarding medical ethics…”

The resolution urges the Tennessee General Assembly to make new laws for stiffer penalties against “against any individual or group that performs or allows partial-birth abortions and engages in the commercial trafficking of human body parts.”

But a coalition of Tennessee groups working for “sexual health and reproductive freedom” say a new law would interfere with programs created to help with medical research. The group called Healthy & Free Tennessee said it is seeing policies like the Memphis City Council resolution pushed throughout the country and the language in them, especially “body parts of aborted babies,” is intentionally inflammatory.

“We are concerned that this resolution will not be in line with professional standards in the field,” said Dana Asbury, the West Tennessee organizer for Healthy & Free Tennessee. “We are also upset to see our city council use fabrications as an excuse to push policies that interfere with medical research in order to target abortion providers.”

The council is set to review the resolution during its Personnel & Intergovernmental Committee, which begins tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. Watch it here

Friday, July 17, 2015

ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic Will Resign

Posted By on Fri, Jul 17, 2015 at 8:25 AM

click image Chris Barbic
  • Chris Barbic
Chris Barbic, who has led the state's Achievement School District (ASD) since its inception in 2012, has announced that he will resign in December.

Barbic broke the news in a letter on the ASD website Friday morning. The letter states that Barbic is leaving because he feels like it's time for a change in leadership and because the demands of the lead role at the ASD have led to strains on his health and family. Barbic suffered a heart attack last year.

The ASD was established in 2012 to facilitate charter school takeovers of failing Tennessee public schools. So far, most of the schools the ASD has taken over have come from Shelby County Schools' priority list, which lists schools in the bottom five percent. The takeovers have caused controversy and resulted in numerous hostile public meetings, where many parents and community leaders expressed disdain with the state takeover system.

The ASD schools have had varied success in improving academic achievement. Some have shown more improvement than others. The model for how ASD schools are run differs depending on the charter operator, but all allow more autonomy for teachers and all allow school leadership to make their own staffing decisions and set their own budgets and programming.

"I came here to answer Tennessee’s urgent call to improve priority schools and to build a new kind of school district that would put the power back in the hands of parents and teachers. Now that this foundation is in place, it is the right time to think about passing the baton to a new leader who will take our work to the next level for the benefit of the students and families we serve," Barbic states in his letter.

As for his more personal reasons for leaving, Barbic writes "I am simply at a point in my life where I need to focus more on my family and my health. Building the ASD has been grueling work. The pace and stress of a superintendent role, especially this one with weekly trips from Nashville to Memphis and multiple nights away on the road, does not lend itself to decades of work. We have been at this for nearly four years, and I have promised my family a change in pace."

Despite criticism of the ASD, Barbic's letter remains optimistic.

"The impact has been clear. Kids’ lives are being changed. Over the last two years, student proficiency in Tennessee’s priority schools grew four times faster than in non-priority schools, and thanks to hardworking partners and educators in Memphis, there are 4,500 fewer students attending priority schools," Barbic writes. "By this time next year, every priority school in Tennessee will be in the ASD, in a district-led iZone, or undergoing some kind of major local intervention. If we keep this up, within just a few years, chronic failure in schools will have real potential to be a thing of the past."

Barbic's full letter is available on the ASD website.




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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Democracy Now! Vote for the Best of Memphis

Posted By on Wed, Jul 15, 2015 at 12:30 PM

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It's time, people. Time to vote for your favorites in the Flyer's annual Best of Memphis balloting. The "polls" opened Wednesday morning and early voting is already brisk, so CLICK HERE and get started. Our way of life depends on it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Memphis Finalist for Grant to Raze Foote Homes

Posted By on Tue, Jul 14, 2015 at 1:45 PM

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Memphis is a national finalist for a federal grant that city officials would use to raze Foote Homes and build a mixed-income housing facility.

Memphis is one of nine cities selected by the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development [HUD] to compete for an individual grant worht up to $30 million to redevelop a targeted neighborhood.

HUD teams will arrive in the cities in the coming weeks to evaluate the buildings and the neighborhoods and meet with city officials. The winner of the grant will be announced in September.

The grant is available through President Barrack Obama’s Choice Neighborhood’s program, which aims to transform neighborhoods of poverty into viable mixed-income neighborhoods.

The grant finalists were chosen on how well their plans addressed the program’s goals of transforming distressed housing, supporting positive family outcomes, and employment, and improving neighborhoods.

While the city’s plan would destroy Foote Homes, the community group called Vance Avenue Collaborative believes the buildings can be and should be saved.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Memphis Anime Blues Con

Posted on Mon, Jul 13, 2015 at 11:27 AM

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Search For Missing Monkey Takes Over Memphis Twittersphere

Posted By on Fri, Jul 10, 2015 at 2:57 PM

As of 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Memphis Zoo officials were still searching for Zimm, the macaque monkey who escaped her enclosure around 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

Laura Doty, the Memphis Zoo's marketing and communications manager, said zoo officials believe Zimm is hiding out in the zoo's culvert system, where a zookeeper spotted her yesterday. 

Doty says they're going inlet to inlet doing a systematic search in the culvert system. Once they establish that an inlet is clear, they're shutting the inlet off to narrow down the search. Traps with fresh produce are set up in the culvert to lure the three-year-old monkey in.

Meanwhile, Memphians are having a blast with Zimm's escape on Twitter. Zimm has an unofficial Twitter account at @Zimm901. Here are a few sample tweets from Zimm.

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But non-monkey Memphians are much funnier. Here are some of our favorite Zimm-related tweets of the day.

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Suspension Overturned For Animal Services Director

Posted By on Thu, Jul 9, 2015 at 8:10 AM

This dog was mistakenly euthanized by MAS.
  • This dog was mistakenly euthanized by MAS.
Memphis Animal Services (MAS) Director James Rogers won't be suspended after all. Rogers was facing a three-day suspension over the euthanization of a Rottweiler that was supposed to be featured in a Click Magazine back in May.

In a letter from the city Human Resources department, Director Quinton Robinson wrote that Rogers that "exercised reasonable judgement in believing your subordinate would successfully complete the request from a citizen that 12 animals be placed on hold for adoption."

The dog that was mistakenly euthanzied, a five-year-old Rottweiler, was one of 12 pets from MAS to be featured in Click magazine's May issue. MAS had agreed not to euthanize the animals that were photographed for that story. But a few days after the dog's photos were taken for the feature, MAS staff overlooked the memo instructing them to hold the dog and he was put to sleep.

"It was a terrible mistake," said Rogers told the Flyer back in May.

Following the incident, the city announced plans to suspend Rogers for five days. But that was later reduced to three days. And now, according to Robinson's letter, Rogers won't be suspended at all. Robinson's letter indicated that Rogers and his staff would be required to undergo further training to prevent such incidents.

A number of animals have been mistakenly euthanized at MAS over the past year. Back in January, the Flyer reported that there had been at least six dogs mistakenly euthanized in the past year. In December, Memphis resident Vickie Carter took a stray pit bull to MAS after rescuing him from an attack by other dogs. She told the intake clerk and Rogers that, if no one claimed the dog before his review date (the day they're either euthanized or placed up for adoption), she would adopt the dog. But on that day, when Carter came to the shelter to pick up the dog, he'd already been euthanized.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Council Committee Agrees On Relocating Forrest Statue and Remains

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 12:13 PM

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The Memphis City Council Parks Committee on Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing the city to move the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue out of Health Sciences Park, and they also approved a resolution to move the remains of Forrest and his wife, which are buried at the park.

The ordinance and resolution came on the heels of a national movement to remove symbols of the Confederacy after a reported white supremacist, Dylann Roof, allegedly murdered nine church members at the historically black Emanuel AME Church in June.

The ordinance to transfer ownership of the statue and to remove and relocate it will be required to pass three readings of the full council before it would go into effect. The resolution to remove the Confederate general's remains only requires one reading, and the council agreed this morning to move it to tonight's full council agenda.

But even if that resolution passes, state law would require that the city bring a lawsuit in Shelby County Chancery Court to have the remains removed and relocated. State law requires a Chancery Court decision for the removal and reburial of remains, and any remaining relatives of the deceased must be made a party in the lawsuit.

City Councilmember Janis Fullilove questioned whether the decision to move the statue and remains were related to recent news of the University of Tennessee's planned expansion. Fullilove said, if UT wanted to purchase the Health Sciences Park land, there could be an ulterior motive for moving the statue. But Myron Lowery, who said he proposed the move before Mayor A C Wharton held a press conference about it two weeks ago, said the move was discussed before he learned of UT's expansion plans. 

"And there is no proposal to the city from UT to deal with that land," Lowery said.

Edmund Ford Jr. said he'd talked to a man who was interested in having the statue moved to Shiloh Military Park in Tennessee. And Lowery said he'd heard from others with interest in the statue. An opinion on the matter written by council attorney Allan Wade said Elmwood Cemetery also had room for the statue. But there's been no decision yet on where the statue would go.

As for the remains, Wade's opinion highlights the fact that Forrest's will, which was probated in Shelby County on December 17, 1877, mentions his request to be buried at Elmwood "among the Confederate dead." Forrest and his wife were originally buried at Elmwood, but their remains were moved to Health Sciences Park (formerly Forrest Park) on November 11, 1904.

The statue was dedicated there on May 18, 1905 by the Forrest Monument Association. The association paid for the statue with private donations, including the donated salaries of the Memphis City Councilmembers who held office in 1903. On March 25, 1903, the association had petitioned the council to authorize a special tax levy for the statue. The council objected because of the need for funding for streets, sewers, and bridges, but the since the members supported the idea for the statue, they agreed to donate that day's salaries to the cause.

At today's council committee meeting, Lee Millar of the Sons of Confederate Veterans expressed disapproval of the proposed move of the statue and the remains.

"We are steadfastly opposed to moving the statue of one of our American heroes," Millar said. "And it would be an abhorrent thing to dig up the graves in Forrest Park."

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Several Memphis Family Dollar Stores Being Sold To DollarExpress

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2015 at 12:28 PM

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Family Dollar and Dollar Tree have merged, but because of concerns about lessening competition, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 16 State Attorneys General (including the Attorney General for Tennessee) is requiring the discount chain to sell more than 300 Family Dollar stores across the country to a new competitor.

That new competitor is a chain called DollarExpress, and three Memphis Family Dollar stores will be included in that sale. The stores located at 1945 South Third, 6195 Winchester, and 2252 Lamar. One Nashville Family Dollar is being sold to DollarExpress, as well. Sycamore Partners, the parent company of DollarExpress, will be re-branding those stores after the sale.

“One of our concerns about the merger was that it would substantially lessen competition in markets like Nashville and Memphis,” said Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III. “By requiring stores to be sold to a new company in the marketplace, that competition to offer the best prices and merchandise will remain.”

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office worked with the FTC in conducting a national review of the $9.2 billion acquisition. Other states joining Tennessee in the lawsuit included Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. 


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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ballet Memphis Overton Square Design Plans Revealed

Posted By on Thu, Jul 2, 2015 at 8:28 PM

From the street, Overton Square patrons and passers-by will be able to watch Ballet Memphis dancers and students practice in their planned new building at the old French Quarter Hotel site.

Plans for the new studio space, which is being designed by Archimania, were unveiled in a meeting on Thursday night at Memphis Heritage's Howard Hall. The new studio that would replace the long-abandoned and blighted hotel will feature large windows on all the studios and public courtyard spaces between each studio. 

Proposed Ballet Memphis Overton Square facility daytime view - ARCHIMANIA
  • Archimania
  • Proposed Ballet Memphis Overton Square facility daytime view


The current hotel building would be demolished, and a new two-story, 27,000-square-foot studio space would be constructed in its place. In keeping with the Midtown Overlay standards, the new building would be closer to the corner of Cooper and Madison, and the parking lot would be moved to the back, blocking the lot from view and creating a pedestrian-friendly area in front of the building. The parking lot would be blocked off from the alley that runs behind the building by a masonry wall. There will entrances to the parking lot on both Cooper and Madison.

The new space will serve as practice space for Ballet Memphis' professional company, and it will also serve as classroom space for the ballet's younger students. Ballet Memphis intends on keeping its current facility on Trinity Road to serve students who live in the suburban areas. Most of the ballet's professional company shows are held at the Orpheum or Playhouse on the Square, so the new Overton Square space won't host many performances.

But at Thursday's meeting, Ballet Memphis Director Dorothy Gunther Pugh indicated that they may host some smaller events and performances there for donors. She said she may also rent the space out to other nonprofits for events.

Proposed Ballet Memphis Overton Square facility nightime view - ARCHIMANIA
  • Archimania
  • Proposed Ballet Memphis Overton Square facility nightime view


Several Overton Square neighbors in attendance raised concerns about the sudden change in plans from a new boutique hotel, which was announced for the site a few months ago, to the Ballet Memphis facility. Some expressed disappointment that the 1.73-acre site was no longer going to be a hotel since Midtown is lacking in hotels.

Brenda Solomito, the land planner on the project, said the hotel deal just didn't work out but didn't really elaborate. The property owners purchased the hotel land in 2013, and she said they were toying with different versions of a hotel for the site and had even gained some of the necessary approvals to go forward. 

"Everything [with the Ballet Memphis deal] has happened in the last three weeks. It's been a very compact process," Solomito said.

Gunther Pugh couldn't give an official timeline for the project, but she said she'd love for construction to break ground in the spring and be in the building by the summer of 2017.

"No one needs to worry that this isn't going to happen. We're not going to do that to Midtowners," Gunther Pugh said.

The project goes to the Shelby County Land Use Control Board on July 9th at 10 a.m. If there's no opposition, it should get approval on the consent agenda. But the final site plan will also have to be approved.

Proposed Ballet Memphis Overton Square floor plan - ARCHIMANIA
  • Archimania
  • Proposed Ballet Memphis Overton Square floor plan




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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Council Could Vote on Forrest Statue Removal

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2015 at 3:12 PM

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Memphis City Council chairman Myron Lowery will ask for a vote next week to remove the statue and gravesite of Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park.

Lowery said he has directed city council attorney Allan Wade to draft an ordinance that would remove the statue and the remains of Forrest and his wife. Lowery said he expects the proposal to be heard in committee on Tuesday, July 7.

“Because of the importance of this issue, I am asking every member of the council to join in co-sponsoring this ordinance,” Lowery wrote to council members Wednesday.

Wade’s ordinance reads liks this:

“Ordinance to transfer ownership of the equestrian statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest and to remove and relocate said statue from the City of Memphis’ Health Sciences Park pursuant to Section 579.1 of the Charter and subject to the provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 4-1-412 (c) and to ratify the February 3, 2013 Memphis City Council Resolution naming Health Sciences Park, Memphis Park and Mississippi River Park.”

Lowery said members of the Shelby County Commission have expressed interest in passing a resolution supporting this proposal.

The move comes nearly a week after Memphis Mayor A C Wharton called for the statue and remains to be moved form the park. That call came after race-fueled murders in a Charleston, S.C. church nearly two weeks ago.

“We are simply saying that there might be a more appropriate place,” said Wharton. “In the case of the flag, put it in a museum. Don’t put it out in common places.
“You see, we all have to drive down Union Avenue. It’s a common, unavoidable place. If someone wishes to see that, then go over to the cemetery in the peace of solitude, tranquility, and reverence and do it there. What Americans would say, I’d like to have a picnic in the shadow Bedford Forrest?”


Paint Memphis Working on Large Graffiti Mural in North Midtown

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2015 at 11:29 AM

A large graffiti mural, spanning about .3 miles from North Evergreen to Chelsea and painted by more than 70 artists, is adding some color to the floodwall along the Chelsea Greenline.

The mural, a project of the Paint Memphis organization, will be the centerpiece of a July 18th neighborhood festival along the greenline. Festival goers will get an up-close look at the mural, while graffiti artists do a little live painting. There will be food trucks and family-friendly activities.

The Urban Arts Commission is sponsoring the Paint Memphis project along the greenline, and the grassroots arts organization plans to eventually do similar graffiti murals in other areas of the city. They're hoping the project helps boost acceptance of graffiti as an art form. Once the Chelsea project is done, Paint Memphis members will monitor the wall regularly to ensure objectionable or offensive graffiti isn't added to the wall. And they'll keep the trash picked up in the area.

“Giving these artists a palette, time, and materials can help them to find a safe and legal space to showcase their talent,” says Karen Golightly, a Paint Memphis event coordinator and street art photographer. 

The Home Depot contributed 35 gallons of paint for this project, as well as paint sprayers and volunteers.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wharton Wants Forrest Statue Removed From Park

Posted By on Thu, Jun 25, 2015 at 5:37 PM

Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Health Sciences Park
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Health Sciences Park

In one of the many reactions to the murders in the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting last week, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton announced Thursday that he wants the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest removed from Health Sciences Park.

The recent attention that has been given to the dismissal of the Confederate flag from state capitals since the shooting has put more pressure on Southern political leaders to make a statement on any remnants of Confederate history.

“We are simply saying that there might be a more appropriate place,” said Wharton. “In the case of the flag, put it in a museum. Don’t put it out in common places. You see, we all have t

o drive down Union Avenue. It’s a common, unavoidable place. If someone wishes to see that, then go over to the cemetery in the peace of solitude, tranquility, and reverence and do it there. What Americans would say, I’d like to have a picnic in the shadow Bedford Forrest?”

Forrest fought in the Confederate army and is declared by many as one of the original leaders of the Klu Klux Klan, although any public involvement with the group is harder to pin down. Both his and his wife’s bodies are buried near the statue in Health Sciences Park. Their remains were originally buried at Elmwood Cemetery, but they were moved to the park in 1904.

The call for the statue's removal comes only two years after the name of the park itself was changed. In February 2013, the park was renamed from Forrest Park to its current name in a vote by the Memphis City Council.

The final decision on moving the statue and the bodies would have to be made by the Memphis City Council, making the Mayor’s declaration just a declaration. Any decision would have to come from the council and will likely receive much opposition from groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Wharton made it clear that removal of other Confederate symbols, specifically the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, around the city was a discussion for another day. His thoughts on the Forrest statue, however, according to the Mayor, are simple.

“We have an opportunity to just go ahead and remove this monument to a horrible time of the history of our state and nation,” Wharton said. “Let’s just do it.”


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Memphis City Council Approves Budget, Raises for City Employees

Posted By on Thu, Jun 25, 2015 at 1:22 PM

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After two days and nearly 10 hours of debate in the chamber, the Memphis City Council passed a budget for the next fiscal year Tuesday morning.

When debate opened Tuesday morning, the budget stood at $656 million. The council added 2 percent raises for police officers and fire fighters and 1 percent raises for all other city employees. The raises added $3.1 million to the budget for a total of $656 million.

The raises were the first order of business Tuesday. They were proposed by council member Reid Hedgepeth during last week’s regular meeting. Though raises represent less than 1 percent of the overall budget, they consumed most of the debate on the entire $661 million budget.

Reid’s proposal gave raises of 2 percent to police and fire only. It was amended by a proposal from council member Edmund Ford Jr. to include a 1 percent raise to the rest of the city’s employees.

The money to pay for the raises will come from cutting some funded but unfilled positions in the Memphis Police Department.

The council approved the raises but completely circumvented the impasse process. That process, set up after labor struggles of 1978, give city employee unions a vote by three-member council committees if unions can’t get a deal worked out with the city’s mayor and administration.

Impasse committees approved several raises this year and rejected others. However, those decisions weren’t considered by the council Tuesday. On advice from the city council’s attorney Allan Wade, the group ignored the impasse decisions, allowing the budget vote to supersede them.

This drew the ire of many council members, including Harold Collins and Janis Fullilove.

“I’m not sure what we went through the impasse process when it means absolutely nothing, just to make some time during the day to say we’re doing something?” Fullilove asked. “We are making a joke of our political process. I never thought I’d say this in my life but I am so sorry to be on this council with many of you.”

Collins said the council could vote the impasse decision up or down but they should not circumvent the process.

“We are setting the wrong precedent by what we’re doing here today,” Collins said. “Hedgepeth offered what I considered a worthy alternative (to the impasse decisions). But it is not right. We have to do what the ordinance tells us and the law tells us first, then we have to proceed.”

Many proposals for raises were raised, defeated, and even turned down by labor unions in the chaotic budget season that began in April. In the end, it was the chaos that had many council members “baffled.”

“I am shocked today,” said council member Wanda Halbert. “I’m like some of you (in the audience), I’m baffled by all of this. … This budget seasons had been very different form the rest in the last seven years.”

Halbert then, called for the question, meaning she wished to stop all debate on the budget and take a final vote.

Council members Berlin Boyd, Alan Crone, Kemp Conrad, Ford, Halbert, Hedgepeth, Myron Lowery, Bill Morrison, and Jim Strickland voted for the budget.

Council members Bill Boyd, Joe Brown, Collins, and Fullilove voted against it. 

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Monday, June 22, 2015

University of Memphis Raises Tuition

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2015 at 3:15 PM

M. David Rudd
  • M. David Rudd
The University of Memphis announced today that tuition will be increasing once again. However, the hike is being downplayed due to the fact that this is the lowest increase in 18 years.

Undergraduate tuition will be increasing by 3.7 percent to a total of $7,320 per year plus mandatory fees of $1,583 for those from in-state who are taking a full academic course load.

Law students have the smallest tuition increase percentage-wise due to their already drastically more expensive fees. Their tuition is increasing by two percent, but students in the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will now have to pay $16,312, in addition to $1,475 in fees.

Graduate students will see the largest increase, going up 3.9 percent or $18 per credit hour. This will come to $9,580 a year, plus $1,589 in fees.

With the approval today by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), it marks an increase in tuition for the Tigers that is less than half the average hike (8 percent) in the past 15 years.

“The Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Memphis remain committed to providing a high-quality education at an affordable cost,” said University of Memphis President M. David Rudd. “We are able to minimize the increase because of continuing cost containment and efficiency measures.”

While the increase may be nothing to cause panic for most students, it does come after a year where the tuition remained the same. 

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