Lawmakers Try to Muscle Private University Over Anti-Bias Policy

State senators jumped into the fray over a nondiscrimination policy at Vanderbilt yesterday. They threatened to cut off lottery scholarship funds to private universities who adopt similar rules for student groups.

The bill says that public schools cannot do what Vanderbilt has done and bar student religious groups from imposing faith tests on members or even leaders.

But Senator Brian Kelsey of Memphis attempted to put private universities under the same state-imposed rule.

“Vanderbilt has adopted an absurd policy, to say that the Muslim student organization must accept Jews who profess no faith in the Muslim … faith, is nonsensical to me.”

Kelsey ultimately withdrew his proposal. A spokesman for private universities called it intrusive. Senators were also reminded that lottery scholarships go to the student, not the school.

The bill cleared the Senate Education Committee, though it only applies to public universities. The House version is scheduled to be heard in committee next week.

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The bill, SB 3597 Beavers / HB 3576 Pody, attempts to tell schools under the state Board of Regents – like Tennessee Tech, Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee State University – that they can’t impose a so-called “all comers” rule on student organizations.

Under the “all comers” criteria, any one can join any group.

The issue flared up after Christian groups at Vanderbilt – not a state-supported university – complained about such a rule.

Senator Stacy Campfield, a Knoxville Republican:

“Obviously this came about because of one university, that’s implemented a policy, and I’ll just go ahead and say it, Vanderbilt University, is now…I guess a lot of their Christian clubs are disbanding. At least there was a story in the paper today about one of the Christian clubs, I believe it was the Catholics, were leaving the university and having to disband because of the policy that the university put in place.”

But Sen. Andy Berke, a Chattanooga Democrat, says the proposal would be over-reaching, trying to tell private institutions what their mission should be.

“Let’s say we’re an Episcopal institution, or whatever, and part of our core belief is that no student group on this campus should discriminate, that’s part of our mission as an institution…we’re gonna tell them, that can no longer be part of your mission if you want lottery funds, right?”

Previous stories:

Vandy Catholic to Leave Campus Over All Comers Rule

Vanderbilt Rule Rankles Faith-Based Student Groups

Notes from Joe:

None of the senators in the committee fight claim a degree either from a Tennessee state school or from Vanderbilt.

Campfield cites a B.S. degree from Regents College on his state webpage.

Kelsey has a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a law degree from Georgetown.

Berke lists a B.S. from Stanford University and a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School.

Sen. Mae Beavers, the sponsor of the bill to impose the new requirement on state schools, cites a B.S. from Trevecca Nazarene University.

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