Monday, January 30, 2012

Vanderbilt Chancellor Issues Edict Affirming New Policy Offensive To Religious Groups On Campus

The new policy in place deprives religious groups on campus of effectuating their mission because the policy removes standards of leadership, according to Chris Godfrey, the National Advisor of Beta Upsilon Chi, Inc.

Mr. Godfrey has sent out the following media release:

“Dear News Team,

“I would like to inform you about a situation at Vanderbilt University that has escalated over the past few weeks and would like to encourage you to get the word out about this story. The Chancellor at the university, Nicholas Zeppos, sent out an e-mail two weeks ago informing the student body about a new non-discrimination policy that will that undermine the integrity of many student religious organizations. This issue deals with our First Constitutional Right, Freedom of Religion, Press, and Expression.

“He says in his e-mail that ‘I want to assure you the university does not seek to limit anyone's freedom to practice his or her religion. We do, however, require all Vanderbilt registered student organizations to observe our nondiscrimination policy. That means membership in registered student organizations is open to everyone and that everyone, if desired, has the opportunity to seek leadership positions.’ No matter how the facts are framed, the reality is that the student organization handbook was altered last December, when a section specifically protecting religious association was removed. Last April, a number of organizations were placed on provisional status as constitutions that had been easily approved in previous years were evaluated under this new standard.

“Now, with a new policy in place, religious organizations can no longer have standards for their leadership. They can no longer require that their leadership believe what the organization stands for. A Christian could lead a Jewish organization, a Muslim a Christian, etc. If a student says that they feel that they cannot join an organization or be elected an officer in it, there will be grounds for a university investigation.

“We need your help getting the word out about a Town Hall Meeting tomorrow that the university is hosting. The meeting is at 6:15pm tomorrow evening in Room 114 in Furman Hall. I have attached four documents that I think you will find helpful in highlighting important information regarding this issue. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. Give me a call at (877) 250-4512 or e-mail me back if you need anything at all. Here is a video link that is relevant as well:


“Chris Godfrey

“National Advisor, Beta Upsilon Chi, Inc.

The missive sent by the Chancellor of Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tennessee was as follows:

“From: Chancellor Date: Friday, January 20, 2012 Subject: Message from the Chancellor To:

“Dear Members of the Vanderbilt Community, As we settle into the spring semester, which will conclude with many of our students taking on new roles - as alumni - in our Vanderbilt community, it is a good time to reflect on the core principles and values of our university. As an institution of higher education, Vanderbilt values above all intellectual freedom that supports open inquiry, equal opportunity, compassion and excellence in all endeavors. We are committed to making our campus a welcoming environment for all, and we are dedicated to encouraging and supporting diversity of thought and opinion among our students, faculty and staff. We believe this sense of inclusiveness, of everyone being able to take part fully in the Vanderbilt experience, is essential to our being able to give students the most enriching educational experience we can provide, both inside and outside the classroom. We believe we all have the opportunity to learn greatly when we are exposed to new people, and to ideas and beliefs different from our own. Equally, we believe that in gaining exposure to the unfamiliar we may discover common ground. Religious freedom is also a fundamental value of our university community. Historically the intellectual freedom that is central to university life has its roots in respect for freedom of conscience. We also believe that Vanderbilt registered student organizations are an important part of the overall Vanderbilt educational experience. That is why we invest university funds in them and afford them the privilege of using the Vanderbilt name. We want to be certain that all of our students have an opportunity to join and fully participate in the registered student organizations that interest them. Questions have recently been raised about how our nondiscrimination policy applies to our registered student organizations. At Vanderbilt, we firmly believe that discrimination is wrong. Individuals must be judged as individuals, not as members of groups. This foundational belief is codified in our nondiscrimination policy, which covers all Vanderbilt students and all registered student organizations. Discussion concerning Vanderbilt's application of our policy, like discussion about other matters of communal concern, is healthy and welcome. What the discussion suggests to me is that, while there is widespread agreement with the principle of nondiscrimination, application of this principle to student religious organizations has prompted concern from some quarters.

“I want to assure you the university does not seek to limit anyone's freedom to practice his or her religion. We do, however, require all Vanderbilt registered student organizations to observe our nondiscrimination policy. That means membership in registered student organizations is open to everyone and that everyone, if desired, has the opportunity to seek leadership positions. We have great trust in our students to select their own leaders of these organizations. In an effort to ensure the content and purpose of our nondiscrimination policy are more fully understood and to continue to discuss any concerns, we will host a town hall meeting later this month. University leaders will explain and take questions about our position regarding registered student organizations and our nondiscrimination policy. We hope this forum will provide an opportunity for the intelligent, dedicated and compassionate members of the Vanderbilt community to make themselves heard, and we want to emphasize that all views are welcome. While the meeting is principally for our students, faculty and staff are welcome to attend and express themselves as well. Details of the town hall meeting will be announced soon. Meanwhile, thank you for all you do every day to advance the mission of Vanderbilt. As always, I am honored and privileged to serve as your Chancellor.

“Sincerely, Nicholas S. Zeppos Chancellor”

Some students at Vanderbilt responded to their Chancellor by means of a video:

Mr. Zeppos’ edict confuses important issues. Schools should not discriminate in their admissions policies, but an admissions policy that cannot set standards for admissions would launch colleges on a journey of suicidal recklessness. Colleges insist, for example, on certain standards for the hiring of staff. A non-discriminatory policy that would abolish standards of hiring would permit students, say, to teach courses at the university and even administer the functions that fall to the chancellor – which, in Mr. Zeppos’ case might not be a bad idea. It is always possible that one of the students “selected” -- though we must be careful of using such words in the absence of standards of selection -- as Chancellor of Vanderbilt might be more discriminating, in the good sense, than its present Chancellor.

The rule that applies to admissions to the college must also apply in some degree to the various clubs the college supports. A Newman club at any university would suffer greatly if, in the absence of standards, a leader of the club should be chosen who practices Wicca – not that there’s anything wrong with Wicca. Likewise, a conventicle of Satanists at Vanderbilt would reasonably wither in indignation if a member of the Newman club with were to be appointed as a club leader just because the chancellor of Vanderbilt was unable to distinguish between rightful and wrongful discrimination.

The chancellor is also climbing out on a very risky limb. Only recently, in a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States for the first time the “ministerial exception” to state and federal employment discrimination laws, while rejecting the Obama administration’s argument that churches should be treated no differently than other employers.”

Reasoning that rights extended beyond reasonable bounds sooner or later collide with other important rights, chief justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, pointed out that “The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important. But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission,” a triumphant declaration of common sense that, for some reason, is beyond the ken of the chancellor of Vanderbilt University.

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