College Students Created TISL to Have a Voice
The history of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature is a story of students taking the initiative and providing leadership to organize themselves for learning about state government and expressing their views on state issues.
In 1966, Dr. Douglas Carlisle, a political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, approached the Student Government Association with the concept of TISL.
Dr. Carlisle was familiar with the North Carolina Student Legislature, which was founded in 1937. He also helped to found the South Carolina Student Legislature in 1956, 10 years before TISL. Links
Events of the 1960s were important to TISL's founding. President Kennedy's emphasis on student activism motivated young people across the nation before he was assassinated in 1963. His death heightened the resolve of many students to participate and make a difference.
Important federal laws under President Johnson such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other far-reaching programs were focusing attention on the role of government. Student activism over the Vietnam War was growing.
It was also an exciting time in Tennessee politics.
In Nashville, the Tennessee General Assembly was demonstrating the first stirrings of independence after decades under the control of the governor's office.
The 1962 Baker v. Carr decision, a Tennessee case of national significance, led to the first redistricting of the legislature since 1900. This, in turn, produced a flood of new senators and representatives to change the political dynamic in the Capitol.
The legislature also began annual sessions after voters approved a constitutional amendment changing the legislative calendar. Consequently, Tennesseans were paying more attention to their state government than they'd paid in a long time.
Republican Howard Baker's election to the U.S. Senate in 1966 introduced two-party competition for statewide offices and raised interest in politics.
The UTK student most intrigued with the TISL concept was Phillip Moffitt. Together, Moffitt and Dr. Carlisle contacted other student government associations across the state. At Vanderbilt, they caught the interest of student Charles Bone. Bone and Moffitt were to become the first and second governors of TISL.
Records suggest that an organizational meeting occurred on the Vanderbilt campus in the spring or summer of 1966. The 1st General Assembly occurred in the fall at the State Capitol.
Since that time, TISL has convened in nearly every academic year. The General Assembly has been displaced from the Capitol occasionally, usually because of construction. It has sometimes met in the auditorium of the War Memorial Building and in committee rooms of the Legislative Plaza.
Over the years, delegates have spent their nights at the TraveLodge or adjacent Ramada Inn (both now parking lots on James Robertson Parkway), the Capitol Park Inn (razed except for its parking garage), the Hyatt Regency (which later became the Crowne Plaza and then the Sheraton) and occasional other hotels.
TISL existed when humans first walked on the moon, when President Nixon resigned and before the Internet. It has shared the Capitol with eight Tennessee governors and one dead architect (William Strickland, entombed in the north wall).
TISL has provided thousands of students over three generations with an education about Tennessee state government and with a channel to express their opinions on state issues.
1966 TISL founded
1976 TISL incorporates as the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature Foundation under Gov. David Lillard Jr. of The University of Memphis; 501(c)(3) tax status follows
First Blue Book published
1977 Forty-two colleges and universities, the all-time record, join under Gov. Jeff Wilson of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
1978 Gregg Sullivan of UTK is the first TISL Attorney General.
1979 David Mason of Austin Peay State University is the first African-American Governor.
1983-84 Mark Ross of Middle Tennessee State University is the first two-term governor.
1985 Nathan Poss of Cumberland University is the first Governor from a small college.
1996 Elizabeth G. Millsaps of Middle Tennessee State University is the first female Governor.
1997 Gov. Jeffrey Wisdom of The University of Memphis attends his record-setting seventh General Assembly as a student
1998 Ashley Woods of Walters State Community College is the first governor from a community college.
2006 37th General Assembly creates separate Board of Directors to manage corporation.
2008 First session of the Tennessee Intercollegiate Supreme Court; Megan Garrett of Austin Peay is the first Chief Justice
2009 Elizabeth Brandon of UTK is the first elected State Treasurer.