Student Column Urges Vanderbilt to Reconsider Stance on Belief-Based Groups

By August 23, 2012

"Considering the damage it has done to the diversity of student organizations on campus, the policy deserves continued debate and Vanderbilt should reconsider its stance on the issue."

That’s what Vanderbilt University junior and 2011 FIRE intern Kenny Tan has to say about his school’s controversial "all-comers" policy, implemented during the 2011–2012 school year and in full effect as students head back to campus this week. Yesterday, Kenny penned an article for The Vanderbilt Hustler explaining the policy for new students, who may not be familiar with the debate. 

Vandy’s all-comers policy requires that all registered student groups accept any student as a member, and groups must allow all members to stand for leadership positions. Student groups cannot require that their members or leaders hold certain beliefs, even if those beliefs form the core of the group’s mission. Indeed, they can’t even require their leaders to perform duties that imply that they hold a particular belief, such as lead Bible studies, prayer, or worship. As Kenny notes, the policy has had a disparate impact on religious groups, and more than a dozen organizations have been effectively forced off campus because they require students in leadership positions to share their faith.

FIRE recently created a short video about the case featuring Vanderbilt students and professors, scholar and author Jonathan Rauch, and country music star Larry Gatlin. It is required viewing for any other school considering the impact that adopting an all-comers policy would have on campus. 

But I’ll give the last word to Kenny: 

Enforcing an all-comers policy attempts to create diversity within groups at the expense of diversity among groups. Allowing all students — Christians and non-Christians alike — to join a Christian organization would make student groups more internally diverse but would erode the differences between them.

Vanderbilt’s Faculty Manual states that both faculty and students "are entitled to exercise the rights of citizens and are subject to the responsibilities of citizens." If the university wants to follow through with this promise, it should grant students and student groups the same freedom of association and trust them to exercise this freedom responsibly.

Well said. Check out his full article at The Vanderbilt Hustler.

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