USC Faculty Would Ban Sexual Orientation Bias
Senate Proposes Change to Equal Opportunity Policy; Trustees Have Final
Say on Request
December 6, 2001
Box 1333, Columbia, SC 29202
By Jeff Stensland, Staff Writer
USC’s faculty senate voted Wednesday to formally bar discrimination based
on sexual orientation.
The senate voted 48-14 to recommend changing the school’s Equal
Opportunity policy by including the term "sexual orientation" to an
existing list of categories that includes age, race and gender.
Supporters say USC would be a more inviting environment for gay and lesbian
faculty and students and would be in line with other colleges and universities
across the country.
The recommendation does not address health benefits to same sex couples or
extend affirmative action policies at the school.
The senate made the same recommendation in 1993, but USC President John
Palms never formally presented it to the board of trustees for consideration.
Wednesday, Palms said that since no state law singled out sexual
orientation as a protected category in 1993, he feared the university could
have opened itself to lawsuits by adopting that recommendation.
No state law provides protection against discrimination based on sexual
Although Palms, who will retire in June, said he would re-examine the
current recommendation, he’s still not sure he’ll present it to the board.
Wednesday’s faculty senate recommendation was sparked by a push from
student groups concerned that sexual orientation wasn’t included in the
Jeff Crews, president of USC’s Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Association (BGLA),
said his group got involved because several gay students were harassed last
year, although he didn’t provide details. USC’s student government joined
the effort, convincing the faculty senate to address the issue.
"I think this will make a huge difference. The students are saying ‘we
don’t care who you are or what you are, come and be a Gamecock,’"
said Zach Scott, chairman of the student government’s policy change
A survey by the student newspaper, The Gamecock, this year showed 66
percent of students supported the change, Scott said.
Some of the faculty senate voiced concern about the proposal.
Col. Chris Campbell, an aerospace studies professor at USC, said since
state law still forbids fornication and "buggery," a term for
sodomy, it would be sending a bad message to adopt the change.
"We should be honest about what we’re talking about. As a professor,
it seems to me what we’re doing is essentially legitimizing actions or
activities that run against state law."
Daniel Sabia, chairman of the faculty senate’s welfare committee who
presented the proposal, said the inclusion of sexual orientation into the
policy doesn’t condone sexual acts. He also said the change could help with
recruitment and warned USC is out of step with other major universities and
Nearly 350 colleges and universities, including many regional schools,
include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies. No
state-sponsored S.C. colleges or universities do.
Kim Mill, education director of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign,
a nonprofit gay rights group, said although adding sexual orientation to
nondiscrimination policies is largely symbolic, it can affect the workplace by
letting gays and lesbians know they are welcomed.
"When people are in a workplace where they know there’s some
protection, they worry less about having to lie and hide," she said. BGLA
members and student government representatives hope to make their case to the
trustees in March, Crews said.
But at least one board member said they don’t plan to approve the
"(The faculty senate) can vote for it all day long, and it still will
never pass," said longtime board member Michael Mungo.
Changing the policy would be useless, Mungo said, since there’s no proof
gays and lesbians are being discriminated against.
"This is really just an ivory tower thing," he said. "Those
people (gays and lesbians) are trying to take over the world, and I get tired
of their political manifestations."
Ed Madden, an openly gay USC English professor, said even though he didn’t
know of overt discrimination on campus aimed at gays and lesbians, he believes
the step would be important.
"There could be faculty members who are afraid to come out because
they don’t know what will happen," he said. "This would let people
know that not only are they protected, but valued."
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