James Barbee, TISL Commissioner of Education
April 8, 2012 - James Barbee, a junior Elementary Education and Learning Foundations major, began participating in Union’s Student Government Association (SGA) as a sophomore. He has served two one-year terms as Attorney General, a position that oversees campus-wide elections each fall and spring. James is currently pioneering the new web-based voting system that students began using this spring.
Union’s SGA is very active in the Tennessee Intercollegiate Student Legislature (TISL), a group comprised of college students from across Tennessee who are interested in exploring the processes of state government. TISL delegates write bills to propose to the TISL legislature at their meeting in Nashville. In his sophomore year, James seized the opportunity to serve as a delegate to TISL as a senator and wrote a bill to be considered by the TISL House of Representatives and Senate. In preparation for his proposed bill, James examined legislation in other states related to “sexting”, or sending sexually explicit materials primarily between mobile phones. His research found a wide range of penalties across the nation from a “slap on the wrist” in California to jail time in Rhode Island. He also discovered that Tennessee had no laws in place against this specific source of communication, especially concerning minors. James’s bill proposed defining “sexting” within the Tennessee Code Annotated, allowing its use as applicable evidence in legal circumstances, and implementing an informative week long program statewide to educate students, teachers, and communities about the dangers and consequences of “sexting”. James’s bill passed in both the TISL House and Senate. A list of all the proposed bills and their passage status in TISL legislature is distributed to all TISL delegates and to the TN State senators and representatives following the fall meeting.
TISL’s comprehensive government structure includes the governor and commissions. Because of his passion for teaching and desire to learn more about education policy, James applied for a position on the governor’s cabinet and was appointed by the governor as the Commissioner of Education. He will meet with Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, in fall 2012 to discuss current Tennessee education policy and to get Mr. Huffman’s feedback on bills proposed by TISL delegates that relate to education. James hopes to be able to shadow Commissioner Huffman for a full day in the summer, as well, to gain insight to the responsibilities of that position. Prior to the fall meeting, James will read about the vast range of Tennessee education policy. At the fall TISL meeting he will serve as a policy expert for the legislative committees as well as advise the governor on vetoing legislation. James will also research and propose a bill in the area of education that will benefit college students, either directly or indirectly. James, in his position as Commissioner of Education, plans to guide proposed bills down the “road of reasonability” toward approval.
James reported that this experience has helped him develop and sharpen his leadership abilities and realizes it will greatly impact his future. After James student teaches in spring 2013, he plans to complete the master’s and doctoral degrees to prepare to become a principal or a director of schools…and ultimately to become Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education.
Thank you, James, for being an outstanding ambassador for Union at the state level.