Vanderbilt University has been explaining to the Tennessee Legislature for about the last eighteen months why they could not or would not apply standards equally across the board when it came to student organizations. The legislature finally had enough of Vandy’s misleading statements and half truths and pretty much called their bluff. Here is the lead up.
Vanderbilt University was founded in the nineteenth century and had very strong ties to the Methodist Church, as they were a theology school training ministers. Around 1914 they formally split with the Methodist Church and have spent the last almost one hundred years becoming more secular. That’s all fine and dandy, but let us fast forward to 2010. In 2010, a small Christian organization on campus had this written in their constitution, “Criteria for officer selection will include level and quality of past involvement, personal commitment to Jesus Christ, commitment to the organization, and demonstrated leadership ability.” Well Vanderbilt had a problem with the personal commitment to Jesus Christ part and told the group that statement violated Vanderbilt’s anti-discrimination code and they would have to take it out and open leadership to anyone wishing to serve. The Christians complained and the University changed their own handbook to make it seems as if they were just bringing the group to compliance when they removed protections for religious organizations over a month after they were asked about the complaint by the student newspaper. Can you say shady.
This is not the first group this has happened to, there are thirteen other Christian groups facing the same dilemma on campus. But a quick word about discrimination here. Do sororities and fraternities let in the opposite sex? Nope, doesn’t happen, yet how does that not violate the anti-discrimination code at Vandy? Seems awfully sexist to me. Even a one of Vanderbilt’s own law professors warned publicly that Vandy was on the verge of engaging in religious suppression. That is actually a very serious charge.
Well, the Tennessee Legislature came through like a boss earlier this month passing a bill that basically says, you let individual organizations decide the criteria by which they will admit members and select leadership or you can open ALL student run organizations to all comers (and not just the Christian ones). I would say this pretty much sums it up correctly, something that Vanderbilt had been unable to do on their own as an organization of higher learning no less.
To allow some groups to have their private selections of leadership, no matter the process, and deny the same to other organizations is discrimination plain and simple. It does not matter to me why. When I join an organization, or anyone does, for that matter they usually do it because they are interested in hanging out with people who have the same goals, hobbies, beliefs, as they do. Taking that away only causes organizations to fall apart. This is apparently, in my opinion, what Vandy was trying to do without banning some organizations outright.