When a student enrolls at a college, he probably expects that his school will want to keep him safe – from physical violence and from theft.
But how far should a university go to ensure the safety of its students and the organizations they run? How many restrictions should a university pass on student organizations before it goes beyond protection, and becomes a violation of their rights?
At Vanderbilt University, one of the largest student religious groups is leaving campus because the Vanderbilt administration is trying to limit the group’s right to choose its own leaders on the grounds of “non-discrimination.”
In keeping with the school’s policy, the club’s rules state that any student is welcome to attend meetings and become a member. Vanderbilt’s leadership, however, wants to force the club to change its bylaws to allow any student – including non-religious ones – from holding a leadership position.
The arbitrary suspension of citizens’ rights when they become students is hardly new – a small sampling of rights suspended by universities in the name of “safety” include a student’s right to due process in sexual assault allegations, the right to smoke, the right to carry a weapon, and the right to free speech.
So it’s on surprise that Vanderbilt would rather project its own ideas of equality and fairness onto a club that can govern itself well within the law without further restrictions on membership and leadership.
If citizens who become students can be trusted to become business and academic leaders after their graduation from a prestigious institution like Vanderbilt, they should certainly be trusted to run their own clubs by their own bylaws.
In the words of Vanderbilt Catholic’s president, “If we were open to having non-Catholics lead the organization, we wouldn’t be Catholic anymore.”
The right to author it own bylaws and govern its own members is afforded to the members of Vanderbilt as American citizens. It should likewise be afforded to them in their capacity as Vanderbilt students.
The policy supposedly “protects” students from discrimination, but such an unbending stance serves to discriminate against groups like Vanderbilt Christian who want to have the right to craft their own organizational sense.
It is unlikely that an environmental group should be removed from campus because it insists its president promote recycling.
In keeping with their rights to assembly, Vanderbilt Catholic and organizations like it should not be subject to arbitrary restrictions because they are students.
The real non-discrimination policy that Vanderbilt should be promoting is the one that allows its students the freedom to organize and govern those organizations without limitations from their administration.
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