All-Comers Supporters: Don’t Worry, Bad Things will ‘Never Happen’!

By on February 23, 2012

If tomorrow the laws against insider trading were revoked in their entirety, would you expect more insider trading to take place, or about the same amount?

If you think more would result, congratulations; you apply logic the way most people do. But if you think there would be no effect, I think I might have found someone who agrees with you.

In a recent Associated Press article about the trend of universities considering the adoption of "all-comers" policies banning belief-based student groups from making belief-based choices about their membership or leadership, I was quoted warning of some of the potential downsides of these policies:

True all comers policies are rare because they’re often impractical and can lead to absurd results, said Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which monitors free speech issues on campuses and has criticized Vanderbilt.

For instance, such policies stop a campus Christian group from ousting its president if he converts to Islam, Shibley said.

They also raise the prospect of mischief: in theory, the College Republicans could join the College Democrats en masse, take over the leadership and disband the group, he said.

Oh, that Shibley, always with the doom and gloom. Lighten up, says Susan Sommer of Lambda Legal

Sommer said such things never happen, and all comers policies are straightforward and just.

Of course, one of the reasons such things supposedly "never happened" before (actually, we know of at least one attempt) is because it was assumed as a matter of course that belief-based student groups could make belief-based decisions. Christian groups, for instance, were allowed to require their leaders to lead Bible studies or, you know, be a Christian (both of which are now banned at Vanderbilt). The fact that policies allowing belief-based decision-making presumably worked as intended is now being used as an argument that we can safely eliminate those policies. Maybe we can, and nobody will ever try to take over or cause mischief for a group with which they disagree, but it seems to me that that counts on people being awfully friendly to minority groups. If I were representing LGBT students on campus, I would probably not make that assumption, but to each his or her own, I guess. 

I would also note that I am assuming that Sommer was not suggesting that Christians never convert to Islam or vice versa, which would be patently false. Presumably, she is simply comfortable with a Christian group being forced to keep on a now-Islamic student leader who doesn’t share their core beliefs, or maybe she would suggest they follow Vanderbilt’s advice and disband (and later re-form) the entire group to end the problem (yes, that was Vandy administrators’ actual advice—look at this video around 31 minutes in). To me, this seems a burdensome and unnecessary way to achieve the exact same effect, but the evidence has long suggested that logic works differently in the administrative suites of our nations’ campuses.

Schools: Vanderbilt University Cases: Nationwide: “All-comers” Policies Jeopardize Free Association Vanderbilt University: Refusal to Approve Constitutions of Student Groups that Require Leaders to Share Beliefs