Knoxville Lawmaker Wants to Enforce State Rules on Vanderbilt

A state representative says if Vanderbilt University does not rescind it “all-comers” rule, he will push to include private universities in a proposed law targeting non-discrimination policies.

Legislation currently being debated would prevent colleges from forcing student groups to drop faith requirements for membership or leadership positions, as Vanderbilt has done. But the legislative proposal only covers public colleges, even though the issue hasn’t occurred there

Last night, Knoxville Republican Bill Dunn said he was considering an amendment that would include any private institution that “receives state money.”

Dunn told the House Education Committee he had talked to Vanderbilt representatives, and pending their action he would hold off on the amendment – for now.

“I believe it may be prudent to give them time to come through on some of the things that we discussed, and so, what I’m gonna do is, I’m gonna withdraw this amendment right now, in the interest of time, but don’t be surprised if we see it on the House floor.”
So I withdraw this amendment at this time.

Private school spokespersons say the state has no business enforcing rules on private schools that don’t get operating funds from the state budget.

The bill is HB 3576 Pody/SB 3597 Beavers

The Senate version of the bill (this amendment is the current form) only affects public universities. It was set for the Senate floor but was postponed to April 19.

Claude Pressnell, president of Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, called the threatened state action a dangerous precedent.

“It is not the role of the state of Tennessee to step into an independent institution, that does not receive operational support from the state of Tennessee, and begin to dictate matters related to governance in student affairs policy.”

The controversial Vanderbilt “all comers” rule was adopted after several gay students were asked to leave a religious brotherhood. Christian groups on campus have argued that the policy is targeted at them.

David Mills, a lobbyist for Vanderbilt University, told the committee that the threatened action isn’t the first time the state has “interfered” with private schools’ policies.

In 1901, Mills said, the state forced Western Theological Seminary (forerunner of today’s Maryville College) to stop accepting Indians and African Americans.

It took until the 1950s, Brown v. Board of Education, for the school to get out from under the state policy of segregation, he said.

An article from the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture outlines the history of Maryville College and its fight with civil authorities over who it could admit.

A similar attempt to bring private schools under state-imposed rules took place last month in the Senate Education Committee, when Sen. Brian Kelsey attempted to use lottery scholarship money allotted to Vanderbilt students as a lever:
Lawmakers Try to Muscle Private University Over Anti-Bias Policy

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