Students, alumni, state legislators press VU on 'all-comers' policy

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 7:05pm

Students, alumni and a handful of state legislators are voicing their opposition to Vanderbilt University’s controversial "all-comers" nondiscrimination policy in advance of key Vanderbilt Board of Trust meetings on Thursday and Friday.

A meeting by the full board on Friday will be the second time it has convened since Vanderbilt expounded on its all-comers policy at a town hall meeting in January.

The policy requires that all university-recognized student organizations, including religious groups, must be open to all students. It also maintains that religious groups can’t discriminate based on beliefs — which has created backlash from Christian organizations.

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and 22 other Republican House members addressed a letter to the board of trust and asked them to reconsider the application of all-comers to religious groups. Dunn’s office confirmed that the letter was supposed to be sent yesterday.

“We acknowledge that private institutions such as Vanderbilt University have the freedom to establish its associations and maintain the integrity of its institutional mission,” Dunn wrote to the Board. “But the state has a right not to subsidize any part of the operations of those organizations, like Vanderbilt University that engage in unequal treatment of individuals and organizations, the effect of which is religious discrimination.”

Dunn is currently supporting House Bill 3576, which will prevent public universities from adopting a similar all-comers policy. There was also a proposed amendment to HB3576 that includes withholding state funding from private institutions that receive more than $24 million in taxpayer money.

“In the event you do not [reconsider the all-comers policy], we have tried to find a way to balance our concerns that state funds not be given to institutions that discriminate against religious organizations with the University’s right to set its own policies,” Dunn wrote.

The amendment was withdrawn in the House Education Committee last week so that the legislators could address the Vanderbilt Board of Trust for their input.

Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Beth Fortune said the school has received the letter and is working with legislators.

“The state of Tennessee and Vanderbilt have had a long and successful partnership. Vanderbilt provides important services like TennCare,” Fortune said. “This amendment puts that relationship and those services potentially at risk. We respect the difference of opinions and continue to work to resolve that.”

The letter recognized that other universities, including Ohio State University, provided provisions in their all-comers policy that allowed religious organizations to exclude students who didn’t adhere to certain beliefs.

Fortune said the deadline for student organizations to apply for membership was earlier this week and that the large majority of groups, including religious groups, have reapplied and are expected to be in full compliance with the all-comers policy.

In addition to legislators, an activist group backed by Americans United for Freedom called Restore Religious Freedom at Vanderbilt plans to run ads on local cable channels while the trustees are in town this weekend, according to RRFV spokesman Russ Jones.

Jones said funding for the ads came from concerned alumni — and that “this is just the first flight” of ads. One of the advertisements urges Vanderbilt alumni to cease donating, using “Not Another Dime” as a slogan.

In addition to the TV ads, The Vanderbilt Torch, the self-described “conservative and libertarian commentary magazine,” is sponsoring a public lecture on Thursday night by conservative speaker and author Dinesh D’Souza.

D’Souza’s speech is titled “How Christianity Shaped America: Religious Liberty and Liberal Intolerance.”

“The Intercollegiate Studies Institute arranged for this visit thinking that it was very timely given the situation at Vanderbilt due to Mr. D’Souza’s experience and his work,” Torch Editor-in-Chief Valerie Hsu said. “I anticipate that he definitely will [address the all-comers policy] because the situation at Vanderbilt has gained such national media attention that it’s impossible to separate his lecture and his topic from the situation at hand.”

10 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 4/18/12 at 8:43

What will the GOP Legislators stick their noses in next? Rep. Dunn and 22 others are telling Vanderbilt to do as I say or we will cut your funds off. What is this? Private institutions have to follow the crazy nuts on the right.

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By: Loner on 4/19/12 at 5:18

Once again, Tennessee's own"4-G" network, ( God, Guns, Gays & "Guvmint ) is getting media attention.

The Tea Baggers have hijacked the TN Legislature and the TN Governorship too....the result has been an embarrassing series of an anti-science, anti-welfare, anti-choice, anti-Muslim, anti-union, anti GLBT and some other "anti-" crusades.

The only active "pro-" programs are the pro-gun and pro-Creationism agendas.

Sometimes, I think that Abe Lincoln screwed up...he should have let those Southern Christian bigots go their own way....the former confederacy states are a national shame and embarrassment.

By: Rocket99 on 4/19/12 at 6:17

It just amazes me how Mr. Dunn cries foul concerning discrimination on something he considers Christian rights but redily supports the exact same type of discrimination when it's pretty much anything else, especially non-christian (according to him) religons and gay and lesbian citizens.

I guess Lifeway is trying to force Vandy to follow their way since they lost Belmont and they are doing it through our lawmakers. I think the IRS needs to investigate them and rapidly remove ANY tax exempt status they or their affiliates have anywhere.

By: Hope Gardener on 4/19/12 at 7:41

Damn these bigoted State Lawmakers and their shameful threats against our beloved Vanderbilt. $24 million doesn't even begin to put a dent in the $3.2 billion that Vanderbilt contributes to our local and state economies or the $300 million in uncompensated care that Vandy provides to those who these terrible lawmakers long ago abandoned. Shame, shame, shame on the legislature.

Vanderbilt, YOU HAVE THE PEOPLE'S SUPPORT. STAND YOUR GROUND!

By: localboy on 4/19/12 at 7:53

"The state of Tennessee and Vanderbilt have had a long and successful partnership. Vanderbilt provides important services like TennCare,” Fortune said. “This amendment puts that relationship and those services at risk. We respect the difference of opinions and continue to work to resolve that.” Clinched fist in velvet glove.

By: JeffF on 4/19/12 at 9:57

" the $3.2 billion that Vanderbilt contributes to our local and state economies or the $300 million in uncompensated care "

By all means, Vanderbilt should stand their ground and choose not to do any of that stuff. That will show us. Of course, they (Vanderbilt) would not be making money or stuffing their endowment if they did that. You didn't think they were doing all that stuff purely out of civic pride did you? The dumbest stat used in the media today is the "economic impact" drivel. It is used and never questioned or backed up.

Listen open minded types. Change will not occur until you realize that you are also part of the problem. You cannot force people to accept what you accept by stomping on their own Bill of Rights freedoms. You can stop discrimination with your own more robust discrimination. The very thought that you can do so and people will accept your point is the reason closed off, insiders conversation among like minded people is counterproductive.

Broaden your horizons, really try to become as open minded as you already think you are. Intelligent people are allowed to be religious and think differently then you. Calling their intelligence into question only verifies your lack of the same.

Trouncing religious freedom and freedom of association in order to make everyone feel "accepted" is counter to all reasonable logic.

By: Hope Gardener on 4/19/12 at 9:53

Hey JeffF:

Clearly you forgot, somewhere in your self-righteous zeal, that Vanderbilt is a PRIVATE institution and that it is the religious groups themselves who have been "trouncing civic freedoms". Why do none of you fundamentalist zealots understand that Vanderbilt has no obligation to FUND or SUPPORT groups that discriminate against people against its own policies of freedom. And why do so many conservative religious whack jobs continue to shove their own desperately narrow visions of the world down everyone else's throats and then create unfree policies in the name of freedom? Why, because they are also liars and hypocrites.

Also, no one is taking issue with these groups' rights to organize or practice their faith (they can even cut the heads off of chickens and jump around screaming about their faith if they want to); they just can't disallow other students from belonging to their ridiculous cult. Here's a "logical" idea to all the self-righteous little religious bigots who want their "rights" of discrimination upheld: GO THE HELL OFF-CAMPUS!

By: RayRay on 4/20/12 at 8:16

Here's what I love - people taking on the legislature while tossing multiple insults, like "conservative religious whack jobs," "tea baggers," "Southern Christian bigots," etc.... With all the venom being thrown around, one would think we are discussing the Taliban, although I suspect some may have more respect for them than they do for fellow Tennesseans who simply have differing opinions. I guess some folks are so correct about things and have such a great grasp on *everything* that there is no room on this earth for people with differing opinions.

It is a sad commentary when people cannot communicate without name-calling and attacks on religion and people with differing views. Yes, Christians "cut heads off chickens and jump around screaming about their faith." You exposed us all, Hope. Any the few who are crying foul about "bigoted" campus religious organizations are no better than those with whom they have a problem - with all the insults you are using.

And finally, FCA and Vanderbilt Catholic - definitely "ridiculous cults."

We sure have some angry people in this world. Remember this: any valid point someone may make is completely undermined when it is not readily discernable from ad hominem attacks.