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ETSU president faces questions, discussions from state senators about kneeling controversy

ETSU President Brian Noland was in the hot seat as he faced Tennessee state senators Wednesday evening.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — East Tennessee State University President, Brian Noland, was in the hot seat as he faced state senators Wednesday evening. The purpose was for a budget review, but the kneeling controversy turned into an emotional point of discussion.

During the Senate committee meeting on education, there were lines of questioning from Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) to Noland.

"Question one, do you believe this action is representative of ETSU?" asked Lundberg. 

He was referring to the men's basketball team's action during the national anthem a few weeks ago. The team says it was intended as a call to end social and racial injustice.

"I think what you're seeing here are students who are making their voices heard. As you look at our institution, we have a diversity of students, diversity of perspectives and diversity of opinions," said Noland. "As our players said in their own words Saturday, they did not intend to disrespect those who served or the flag."

He adds sentiments of regret for the pain the situation has caused.

"In my mind, putting that knee down gave the bird to our flag," said Lundberg.

"You can fight for social justice, which these young men were trying to do, but you can stand for your flag. You can fight for social justice, but stand for your flag," said Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City).

Both Crowe and Lundberg are military veterans.

"I have great respect for those who sacrifice their all so we might be and live free and exercise the First Amendment, which is what these young men did and so I stand with them," said Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis).

Noland said that his larger goal is for people on both sides of the issue to come together in productive conversations.

During the meeting, Lundberg expressed his interest in meeting with Noland and a few of his faculty members soon.

ALSO | The committee Wednesday approved Noland's budget with no opposition. It included, in part, a proposed increase of a little more than $1,000,000 for the medical education units. The budget will now be sent to the finance committee.

This story was originally reported by WCYB.