February 21, 2010

Refining Resolution 44

Print More

On Thursday, the Student Assembly approved Resolution 44, which would force all student groups to adhere to an anti-discrimination policy as a condition of being affiliated with the University. Although it appears unlikely that President David Skorton will accept the resolution in its current form, there are several issues that we feel should be raised in the campus debate on this resolution.

First, the S.A. is tackling an important and worthy cause. We agree with the premise of the resolution: that students should be protected against harmful discrimination in Cornell-affiliated groups. The question, however, is whether this resolution is appropriately tailored to achieving those goals. The University needs to have a policy for student groups that balances freedom of expression and association with the need to eliminate harmful discrimination. This current resolution does not strike that delicate balance.

Second, it is important to draw a distinction between the anti-discrimination clause that the University Assembly has proposed be added to the Campus Code of Conduct and the S.A.’s anti-discrimination resolution. The U.A.’s resolution prohibits discrimination against certain classes of people, only if such discrimination rises to the level of interfering with one’s educational or campus living environment. This policy, which we have endorsed, clearly targets the effects of harmful discrimination on campus.

By contrast, the S.A.’s resolution is a more general prohibition of discrimination. It bars Cornell-affiliated groups from discriminating in choosing its members and leaders. Because this policy effectively sets the criteria for which groups the University will allow to enter the “marketplace of ideas” on campus, we think that it deserves more scrutiny.

The S.A.’s resolution is a good starting point, but it should be more narrowly focused and further refined. The legislation already concedes that there are some circumstances under which discrimination is okay — in forming athletically competitive club sports teams and gender-specific choral groups. It stands to reason that there may be more than just these two instances of “acceptable” discrimination.

In addition, the enforcement of this policy needs to be seriously considered. How will the University go about determining if groups’ constitutions are discriminatory? For religious groups, will this place the University in the position of judging religious doctrine? This hardly seems like an appropriate solution. Even further, what is the standard for bringing forward evidence of a discriminatory group charter or discriminatory practice?

Finally, we question whether the S.A.’s relationship with the administration is most conducive to producing good policy. After passing this resolution, the S.A. will have to wait some time before it receives a response from Skorton. Based on recent history, this could take up to three months.

This does not seem like the most efficient system for encouraging campus dialogue. If the administration will have the ultimate say in the final policy, they should work more collaboratively with the S.A. in drafting that policy. While the S.A.’s current resolution is not ideal, we unequivocally side with their determination to eliminate harmful discrimination from campus. We expect the administration to show the same drive and willingness to approach this issue.