Last edited: December 05, 2004

USC Faculty Would Ban Sexual Orientation Bias

Senate Proposes Change to Equal Opportunity Policy; Trustees Have Final Say on Request

The State, December 6, 2001
Box 1333, Columbia, SC 29202
Fax: 803-771-8639

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 orientation.

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 school’s policy.

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 committee.

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 accreditation boards.

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 recommendation.

"(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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