The Board of Governors voted 6-1 to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy during its meeting Saturday, adding Truman State to the majority of Missouri public universities that have taken this action.
“It became clear that the policy we had just wasn’t working in terms of being informative,” Wells said. “The old policy served its purpose but it was time to streamline, so we don’t have the arguments about what is covered, and what’s not.”
According to the language of the new policy, the University cannot discriminate against current or potential students or faculty and staff based on their sexual orientation in addition to the groups which are already protected within federal law.
Wells said the majority of the four-year, public universities across the state already have added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policies.
The Academic and Student Affairs Committee for the Board has been discussing changes to the nondiscrimination policy for the majority of the calendar year, University President Troy Paino said.
“As I told Board members before the decision on Saturday, and again afterward, for me as the President of this university, it’s not going to change what I do one iota because I wouldn’t tolerate any form of discrimination,” Paino said. “The only thing we do here is evaluate people on their job performance.”
Paino said students, faculty and staff thought the old policy was too vague, and he thinks the Board achieved the goal of clarifying the language involved.
“It’s a good policy and I think it’s time to move on,” he said.
Junior Aaron Malin, president of the Student Association, said he began the push for the addition of sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination policy during October 2011 when he started developing a resolution for Student Senate in support of same-sex partner benefits. He said he found Truman was one of the only universities throughout Missouri to not include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy.
Student Senate passed a resolution by unanimous consent in support of the Board adding sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination policy during November 2011.
“It’s a very important step toward equality, but it is not the last,” Malin said.
While he said he’s pleased with the outcome of the vote, Malin said he found the opposition from two members of the Board of Governors to be unsettling.
“The proponents of this measure would have Truman — a public university — weigh in on one side of the cultural controversy about the normalization of homosexual conduct and related political questions,” wrote John Hilton, a non-voting member of the Board and one of three members of the Academic and Student Affairs committee, in an in-record letter.
Malin said the opposition from Hilton and Cheryl Cozette, the only Board member to vote against the addition, is condemnable.
During the meeting, Cozette, said she didn’t support the addition to the policy because her fear is the more protected groups are defined, the more other groups are discriminated against by not being included.
“We don’t ensure nondiscrimination by listing groups or protected classes in a policy,” Cozette said. “It is my view that by passing the proposed policy, we are, in an effort to be more inclusive, in fact being even more exclusive.”
Cozette also said she thinks this is a cultural and social issue, not a policy issue, which the Board is responsible for.
“Anytime you say ‘I’m against discrimination, but …,’ you’re probably on the wrong side of history,” Malin said.
Junior Michael Bushur, the Board of Governors student representative, spoke out in support of the change during the Board meeting.
Bushur said he thought it was necessary to step up and be the voice for the students, as this is an issue students have shown support for through surveys as well as the passage of a student government resolution, which showed support for the action the Board took Saturday.
“I think maybe the vote today represents Missouri catching up with a lot of other places that have implemented policies like these years ago,” he said.
Paino said while the policy decisions at the University are determined by the Board, the opinions of students, faculty and staff always are influential, and the Board is eager to hear it.
Paino said he thinks with Bushur on the Board and the Academic and Student Affairs Committee, he’s confident the voice of the students were heard during the decision-making process.
Malin said though he’s excited to see the Board make the addition they did, he said he sees this as a springboard to work toward more equality measures for the University, such as same-sex partner benefits.
Because the University of Missouri system hasn’t made a decision on same-sex partner benefits, Malin said Truman making a decision about the measure could make them a leader across the state.
“[Same-sex partner benefits] is a conversation that has certainly been occurring on campus,” Paino said. “It’s a larger conversation that’s occurring throughout the state at other public universities and we are a part of that. We’re not ready to act on it at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something we’ll take up in the future.”
Sally Herleth, executive director of Human Resources, said technically the Board of Governors doesn’t have to make the ultimate decision for there to be a change in the same-sex partner benefits. She said what administrators want, however, is for the Board to be aware and supportive of the issue because of the political nature of the issue.
Staff Council, of which Herleth is one of 18 members, currently is in the process of deciding what action to take in terms of the same-sex partner benefits as a governing body.
Herleth said the Council sent out a survey to staff last week that ends Monday, which asks what their thoughts are about the issue. She said the Council will then decide whether they want to write a resolution, support the resolutions from Faculty Senate or Student Senate in support of same-sex partner benefits or take no action in the matter at all.
Herleth said the next Staff Council meeting will be Dec. 19.
Same-sex partner benefits is currently not on the agenda for the upcoming Board of Governors meeting Feb. 9.