Vanderbilt University's enlightened intolerance, with a note on RUF's response...

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(TB: This post is the collaborative work of an Indiana University graduate student and Vanderbilt undergrad, Elliot Huck.)

Sounding the alarm over eugenics, G. K. Chesterton warned about the “terrorism of third rate professors” whose evil lurks behind the “strengths of their splendid dupes.” Recent developments at Vanderbilt concerning religious and political societies remind us how little has changed since Chesterton’s time. Arguing that no registered college society should be allowed to limit membership and leadership based on religious and political belief, the university threatened any groups requiring such limitations with expulsion from university property. The administration dressed this splendid dupe in the garb of equality and nondiscrimination, with Chancellor Zeppos stressing how the university, more than anything, supports “open inquiry, equal opportunity, compassion, and excellence” (you can read his article here). 

The doublespeak would be laughable if it weren’t...

sobering in its implications. Vanderbilt takes its authority from the June 2010 Supreme Court decision, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez requiring religious societies affiliated with public universities to accept "all comers" as members and leaders regardless of their religious and sexual orientation, so long as the requirement is supported by a university-wide nondiscrimination policy.

Despite the fact that they are not a public university, Vanderbilt took their cue and the administration warned the Christian Legal Society last fall that this “all comer” policy would soon apply to Vandy and CLS would be expected to comply. CLS would be forced to uphold the university’s policies forbidding any religious or moral discrimination in the election of officers, or it would face the consequences. The students spoke up [including Clearnote alumnus Elliot Huck, now a Vandy undergrad], pointing out the crucial distinction between a policy affecting one person and a university-wide policy that would affect multiple campus groups. [Huck also wrote an article for the student newspaper.] But as the semester progressed, it became clear Vanderbilt’s administration would not compromise.

After relative silence on the issue, Vanderbilt’s administration, headed by Richard C. McCarty, provost and vice chancellor of the university, held a town hall meeting in January to field questions. (Here's a YouTube recap and here's the full meeting.) During the meeting, McCarty made it clear where he stood on the issue of Christian faith in the academy. To one student, he stated, “I’m Catholic. What if my faith beliefs guided all my decisions in a given day?” He went on to explain that his religion shouldn’t influence his daily decisions as vice chancellor of Vanderbilt. To another, “Everyone isn’t as fortunate as you are to be firm in their faith. We’re asking you to—oh my gosh—to take a leap of faith for one year and give it a try.” Also, “If your organization has the ability to say no to this person, then that organization is discriminating against that person.” He suggested those students who were against the university’s policies would all benefit from being a little more open to the issue. The irony, of course, is the administration is not open to religious belief when it runs contrary to their own creeds of gender and sexual nondiscrimination. But were one to raise this objection, you can expect McCarty would roll his eyes and state, once again, that we just need to be a bit more open and tolerant to other ways of thinking.

In response to the administration's new policy of intolerance, Vanderbilt Catholic declared they will leave Vandy's campus. Meanwhile eleven other religious groups jointly announced their refusal to comply and they are expected to be denied official group status and campus privileges next year. Those joining in this announced refusal to comply include Navigators, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Christian Legal Society.

The local chapter of the PCA's campus ministry did not join this protest. When contacted, Vandy's Reformed University Fellowship said they intend to remain on campus.

Chesterton offers a healthy way of dealing with academics in Orthodoxy, where he would have diagnosed such zealous commitment to the narrow rationale of nondiscrimination as lunacy. Dedicated to treading the same water of Chancellor Zeppos’ “inquiry, equal opportunity, and compassion” over and over again like dogs chasing their tails, Vanderbilt’s administration is unwilling to be honest and admit they simply hate Christianity and Christianity's God. In an email from James Stofan, Associate Vice Chancellor of Alumni Relations, Joseph Bayly, a Vanderbilt graduate, was assured there “is no concerted effort to eliminate religious organizations from our campus.”

Their actions speak clearer than their words. They are tyrants who preen themselves over their magnanimity. What else would inspire Zeppos to write that “we believe that in gaining exposure to the unfamiliar we may discover common ground.”

To be fair, within their narrow circle of logic Vanderbilt’s administration is willing to follow their premises to whatever ends they lead. Answering a question concerning fraternities and sororities, one representative admitted such cases would have to be reconsidered, and that if one exception were made other exceptions would have to be weighed as well. They have complete faith in their democratic principles. One wonders what would happen were a conservative Christian to run for election as president of Vanderbilt’s chapter of the Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Allied Graduate and Professional Students. We might learn the commitments of Vanderbilt’s administration are not so rigid after all.

This is a maddening circle. Anyone familiar with the current state of the American university is weary of such totalitarianism. Vanderbilt’s administration betrays their demonic alliance by making Christianity their first line of attack. Like Chesterton, C. S. Lewis in his That Hideous Strength warned these attacks would start in the Academy.

The tragedy will be the silence of those Christians who, watching it all happen, respond by scrambling to keep their on-campus privileges, explaining to their students and financial supporters that the kettle is actually a pond, the water isn't getting warm, and they are certainly no stupid frog.