OFFICIAL HISTORY

The history of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature is a story of students taking the initiative and providing leadership to organize themselves, learn about state government, and express their views on state issues.

In response to President John F. Kennedy’s emphasis on student activism, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s passage far-reaching programs and new federal civil rights legislation, and the expanding Vietnam War, young people during the 1960s were heavily motivated to participate in the civic process, learn about the role of government in their lives, and make a difference.

 

It was also a time of profound change in Tennessee politics.

 

In Nashville, the Tennessee General Assembly began to grow its independence after decades under the control of the governor. The legislature began to practice annual sessions, and public attention to state politics increased. In 1962, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the Tennessee case Baker v. Carr, which led to the first redistricting of the legislature since 1901. As a result, a flood of new senators and representatives permanently changed the political dynamics in the state Capitol. At the national level, Tennessee also elected Howard Baker to the Senate in 1966, becoming the first Republican from Tennessee to win a Senate seat since Reconstruction.

 

These factors laid the groundwork for the growth and success of TISL.

 

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’s suggestion was based on the North Carolina Student Legislature, founded in 1937, and the South Carolina Student Legislature, also founded by Dr. Carlisle in 1956.

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’s suggestion was based on the North Carolina Student Legislature, founded in 1937, and the South Carolina Student Legislature, also founded by Dr. Carlisle in 1956.

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 occasionally displaced from the Capitol, usually because of construction. It has sometimes met in the auditorium of the War Memorial Building and in committee rooms of the Legislative Plaza.

 

TISL existed when Americans first walked on the moon, when President Nixon resigned, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and before the Internet. It has shared the Capitol with ten Tennessee governors, six Secretary of States, and one dead architect (William Strickland, entombed in the north wall).

TISL has provided thousands of students over six decades with an education about Tennessee state government and with a channel to express their opinions on state issues.

Milestones

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.

 

1977

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.

1983-1984

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 a separate Board of Directors to manage the corporation.

2008

The first session of the Tennessee Intercollegiate Supreme Court; Megan Garrett of Austin Peay is the first Chief Justice.

2008

TISL Media began its first official coverage of the General Assembly.

2009

Elizabeth Brandon of UTK is the first elected State Treasurer.

2020

The 51st General Assembly meets online for the first time, with Hunter McCloud of the University of Tennessee at Martin serving as Governor.