Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Anti-Discrimination Policy: Update

In a post about a month ago I explained the situation regarding the registered status of a religious student organization on campus, the Asian InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (AIVCF).  The group had written into its student organization constitution a requirement that officers in their organization submit a statement of faith, effectively excluding a number of people from being able to lead their student organization (but which would also give them the ability to guarantee that their group functions toward their stated goals).  The University saw such a requirement as a breach of the Anti-Discrimination Policy, particularly (again, I think, though don't know the specifics) this section:
"The University is committed to compliance with all applicable laws regarding non-discrimination.  Furthermore, it shall strive to build a diverse community in which opportunity is equal for all persons regardless of race, sex, color, religion, creed, national origin or ancestry, age, marital status, handicap, or Vietnam-era veteran status.  It shall exert its leadership for the achievement of this goal by all parties which it recognizes or with which students or employees of the University are involved."
Quite belatedly I have now revisited their Facebook page to see if there has been an update on the issue; the University and AIVCF had met on February 4th to discuss the matter, and according to AIVCF a ruling has been put forth (my emphasis):
Coming out of those meetings, the University ultimately decided to make an exception to their policy and offer us fully restored student organization status.
Ah, 'exception.'  That's a fun word to hear from groups whose national leaders were earlier throwing around cries of discrimination.  This will surely leave a bitter taste in the mouths of at least several of our own members, who also recognize the malarkey around such accusations.

Now to be completely fair, Greg Jao isn't a mouthpiece for this particular chapter, and I have not heard accusations of discrimination from directly affiliated members.  AIVCF also stated this in the statement I linked to above (again, my emphasis):
Given some time, AIV [AIVCF] decided to accept the University's exemption offer as we believe this sets a firm precedent for other religious organizations at the University of Michigan.  AIV is grateful for this recognition, but we are ultimately uncomfortable being an exemption to the University's non-discrimination policy.  We believe that what will bring the most lasting and durable changes to the University is an amendment to their non-discrimination policy itself.  In doing so, this would leave AIV in a much more protected place should future situations arise of a non-discriminatory nature.  Given the present exception made by the University, AIV has little protection from the University through the non-discrimination policy in the future.
I actually agree with this paragraph and can understand where they're coming from.  If they can obtain an exception for a particular section of the Anti-Discrimination Policy, then they lose quite a bit of footing when it comes to being protected by other measures of either the Policy or probably other University policies.

The suggestion for an amendment also has less selfish purposes.  For starters the fact that there's now an exception to the rule – based seemingly on nothing more than the fact that the group yelled loudly enough – is a tarnish to the rule itself.  Changing the Policy to again apply to all student organizations would be a way to fix this.

The actual amendment could help to also solve an issue I brought up in my previous post, which was that the goal of inclusion at times butts heads with the freedom of association.  Religoius student organizations are only a subset of student organizations that might have an interest in allowing only people who idelogically identify with the group's purposes and goals to become leaders; this decision shouldn't be a 'precedent' for anyone, but it should act as an interim decision until the University adopts a change to their policy.

(At this point it might help to say, that such an amendment has been an opinion of mine since the beginning, and I would like to stress mine as our own SSA does not have a stated position, nor do our individual members necessarily agree with me.)

It is now a month later, and I while I had not heard of this decision when it was made, I also have not heard of any change to the Anti-Discrimination Policy, which I assume would be more public.  I can concede that the process probably takes time, but the University would be best off making haste with this decision.  The exemption that AIVCF was able to obtain is not the result of informed policy making, is not a sustainable solution, is not fair to any group on campus, and will not be acceptable in perpetuity.

No comments:

Post a Comment