Saturday, February 04, 2012

Vanderbilt University: Christian Campus Groups Can’t Require Leaders to Have Specific Beliefs

Trouble-making queers again. They sure know how to generate hostility towards themselves, even if is not allowed to be overt. But social exclusion doesn't have to be overt

The drama over student rights and religious freedom continues to rage at Vanderbilt University, as the higher education facility doubled-down this week on enforcing strict rules that some say discriminate against campus religious groups.

At the center of debate is the university’s nondiscrimination policy, which bans student-led faith groups, among others, from requiring leaders to hold specific beliefs.

The policy, which in many ways contradicts theological requirements, has created angst among members of both the student body and the university’s faculty. These opponents see the ban as a crackdown on their freedom of religion and speech. School leaders, though, maintain that the policy is necessary to ensure that all students feel welcome at campus clubs and events.

The Blaze first reported about the situation back in September. Our original coverage provides the background needed to understand how the situation was started:
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, is making headlines after a Christian fraternity, Beta Upsilon Chi, asked an openly gay member to resign. Upon leaving the group, the young man filed a discrimination complaint and now college administrators are trying to figure out whether the campus organization violated the school’s nondiscrimination policy.

Of course, this incident has grown into a much larger controversy in which university administrators are reviewing all student-led organizations. As a result, officials are concerned about specific clauses that five Christian campus groups have in their constitutions.

These clauses require members of the groups to share their religious beliefs, something that didn‘t concern campus administrators until the student’s complaint was made. Now, the school wants the constitutions amended and the controversial clauses dropped.

Currently, four campus groups violate this policy, as they require their leaders to maintain Christian messages. Club heads argue, though, that leaders responsible for planning Bible studies should actually believe in the material they are preaching. The campus groups in question are the Christian Legal Society, Beta Upsilon Chi, Graduate Student Fellowship and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

At an event on Tuesday evening, the college defended its policies to an audience of over 200 students. Provost Richard McCarthy and Vice Chancellor for University Affairs and Athletics said that the university doesn’t plan to back down. If student groups fail to comply, they will lose their official status with the college.

Despite administrators’ insistence, the community forum did provide students with an opportunity to share their opposition and reasoning with policy-makers at the helm.

“The Vanderbilt discrimination policy is directed against the Christian community,” said Leighton Watts, a member of Beta Upsilon Chi, a Christian fraternity (he wasn’t inside the meeting, but he was watching from a computer outside of the venue and commented to media).

“We want to be able to elect our leaders based on our beliefs,” said Joseph Williams, a former student body president at the university. He spoke out against the restrictions during a question and answer period.

McCarthy’s response to this was intriguing: Students can vote for any individual they’d like, but the clubs cannot have written rules banning students who don’t hold specific views from running for leadership roles. He essentially told students not to vote for people with whom they disagree.

Carol Swain, a law professor at Vanderbilt and an adviser to the Christian Legal Society, disagrees with the college’s stance and is working to assist groups who stand opposed to the rule. In an interview with FOX News, she said:
“There are people on campus who are very threatened by the idea of religious freedom and they would like to create an environment where no one hurts anyone else’s feelings – unless it’s Christians.

This political correctness is running amuck on campus and its constraining one group – and that group tends to be conservatives. They will be forced to either accept the university’s policy or leave campus by the end of the academic year. They are in limbo.”

The Blaze also spoke with Joshua Charles, who co-authored Glenn Beck’s “The Original Argument.” Charles, who was a Founding Father and President of the Beta Upsilon Chi chapter at the University of Kansas, had some strong feelings on the matter.

“It seems difficult to imagine a scenario in which any religious group could, without any infringement whatsoever, worship and practice freely if they cannot even make decisions on their own membership or leadership,” Charles said. “Groups are formed in order to advance causes, ideals, or something of the sort. But if the integrity of that group cannot be maintained, then neither can
the causes or ideals for which it was founded in the first place.”

In the end, Christian student groups are clearly stuck at this point, as administrators are refusing to budge. But it’s not just religious groups that could encounter a problem. What if a gay and lesbian rights group on campus wants to ensure that those in leadership roles hold true to certain values of equality? Or — what if an environmental group wants members to pledge their allegiance to protecting the earth?

“Freedom of association — the ability to mingle with those you wish to mingle with, to connect with those you wish to connect with, and to join in common cause with them, is a fundamental liberty,” Charles continued.

In the end, this is a policy that certainly holds the potential to create further angst and inter-student contention.


Prestigious California college admits inflating SAT scores for rankings

A senior administrator at California's Claremont McKenna College resigned after admitting that for years he falsified SAT scores to publications such as U.S. News & World Report to inflate the small, prestigious school's ranking among the nation's colleges and universities, according to the college's president.

President Pamela Gann told college staff members and students about the falsified scores in an email Monday, The New York Times reported.

Gann wrote that a "senior administrator" had taken sole responsibility for falsifying the scores, admitted doing so since 2005, and resigned his post.

Gann wrote that she was first warned of inaccurate reporting earlier this month and asked other administrators to investigate, leading to an administrator's admission of guilt and Monday's announcement.

Gann said the critical reading and math scores reported to U.S. News and others "were generally inflated by an average of 10-20 points each."

Robert Franek, the senior vice president of publishing for The Princeton Review, which provides preparation for the SAT and also ranks colleges, said he had never heard of a college intentionally reporting incorrect data.

"We want to put out very clear information so that students can make an informed decision about their school," Franek said. "I feel like so many schools have a very clear obligation to college-bound students to report this information honestly."

The Princeton Review bases its college rankings on student opinion rather than test data, Franek said, so he was uncertain whether a change as small as that reported would make a difference.

The current U.S. News rankings list Claremont McKenna as the ninth-best liberal arts college in the country, a fact noted on Gann's biography on the college's website.

The liberal arts school, part of the Claremont colleges cluster east of Los Angeles, has about 1,200 students and places a strong academic focus on political science and economics.

The school has not officially identified the administrator who admitted the wrongdoing.

"At this time, we have no reason to believe that other individuals were involved," Gann wrote in her message to staff.

Gann said a law firm has been hired to investigate further


Assistant head teacher 'bullied, undermined and victimised staff at British school where colleague collapsed and died'... but she's cleared to return to the classroom

A former assistant head teacher ‘bullied, intimidated, undermined and victimised’ her colleagues, including one young teacher who collapsed and died on school premises, a disciplinary panel has heard.

While employed as acting deputy head in South Yorkshire Moira Ogilvie, 40, allegedly ‘bullied’ staff, made them spy on each other and acted in an inappropriate manner towards children - including making obscene ‘finger gestures’ towards them.

The assistant head teacher of High Greave Junior School, Rotherham is also alleged to have discussed confidential information, and asked members of staff to report on their colleagues behind each other’s backs.

Appearing at a General Teaching Council conduct hearing in Birmingham, she was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct, but can return to teaching under certain conditions.

The hearing heard how 29-year-old teacher Britt Pilton had been found dead at the school in February 2009.

Presenting officer Laura Ryan told the panel: ‘Bullying is recognised as being a problem amongst pupils, so it is vital it is not present in staff responsible for those pupils.

‘Members of staff reported that Moira Ogilvie had asked them to spy on each other. ‘That she had left them feeling victimised, intimidated, bullied and harassed, and that she had been seen making obscene finger gestures to pupils.’

One victim of the toxic leadership was 29-year-old teacher Britt Pilton. The bride-to-be, 29, faced 12 months of pressure at the school before she had a panic-attack and was found dead on the floor of a school toilet, an inquest in 2009 found.

In a letter, fellow teacher Natalie Garbutt said that on the day of Miss Pilton’s death, she had been ‘concerned that photocopying she had left in the photocopier had been removed by Moira Ogilvie to substantiate claims in relation to her professional conduct.’

Natalie Garbutt, a teacher at the school, gave a statement to the GTC committee in September. She told the panel about how Miss Pilton’s name had been removed from her pigeon hole in the staff room on the day following her funeral. Miss Garbutt said this had made staff feel uneasy because they ‘didn’t want all evidence of her to be taken away.’

She added that Miss Ogilvie had joked that the school, which had been facing the prospect of a drop in pupil numbers, would no longer have to worry.

Miss Garbutt said: ‘Moira made some comments that I think were meant to be light-hearted.’ She added: ‘She commented about there not being any staffing issues now because we had enough staff for the children.’

Miss Garbutt told the panel that Miss Ogilvie had asked her to ‘keep tabs’ on Miss Pilton after telling her that there were too many staff at the school. Miss Garbutt said: ‘The thing with Britt was her attendance was quite poor, she wasn’t always prepared for her lessons, things like that and I was asked to make notes on things that Britt did.’ She added that she thought Miss Ogilvie wanted to gather evidence to use against Miss Pilton.

She said: ‘Britt made a lot of mistakes, she had a lot of time off and if there was going to be any body that would have to leave then evidence was needed to be collected.’

Another member of staff, Rachel Green, claimed that Miss Ogilvie had remarked that Miss Pilton’s replacement was ‘a better teacher than Britt ever was’ in front of a child.

Giving a statement to the panel, former head teacher June Hitchcock said that the school had been ‘devastated’ by the loss of Miss Pilton. She said staff were ‘devastated, completely. It was a total shock. It affected them, I would suggest it still affects them deeply. ‘It was a huge loss professionally and personally for some of the staff who were very close to Britt Pilton.’

Still, despite being found guilty, Ms Ogilvie will be allowed to continue to teach under a conditional registration order: 'She will able to return to register and teach on the position but she cannot take line management responsibilities,' GTC press officer Sam Haidar told Mail Online. 'She needs to take an accredited mentoring or reflected management course.'


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