November 30, 1998

Discrimination policy receives system hearing

Controversial UM rules criticized at meeting

by Josh Renaud
staff assistant
photo by Stephanie Platt

Students gave an overwhelming number of speeches in favor of protecting sexual orientation under the University of Missouri System nondiscrimination policy at an open hearing in Columbia on Nov. 13, said Mike Rankins, vice president of the Student Government Association.

According to Maurice Manring, spokesman for the UM System, the meeting was held in response to events that occurred on October 16.

"At the last meeting of the full Board of Curators," Manring said, "the curators had a breakfast meeting with student government representatives from all four campuses. One of the things on [the students'] agenda was asking the curators to consider adding sexual orientation to the discrimination language. There was also a student protest at the board meeting on the same topic. President [Theodore] Beckett appointed the executive committee of the Board to study the issue. The first thing they promised to do was to have some kind of meeting where people could make arguments for and against including [sexual orientation]."

One of the students who spoke in favor of inclusion was Rankins, who represented UM-St. Louis.

"I gave a presentation in which I mentioned the resolution that was passed by SGA earlier this year," he said. "For the third year in a row, SGA unanimously passed a resolution petitioning the Board of Curators to include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policy. I mentioned that many students felt that was an important factor."

Of the 40 people who spoke, only 3 spoke against inclusion, Manring said.

"There were really some remarkable speeches given," Rankins said. "Student leaders from all four campuses were supportive of the inclusion."

Manring said that Executive Order Three was a topic that came up. President Mel George gave Executive Order Three in 1997 to address the issue of discrimination. The order declared that the University of Missouri was committed to providing a positive working and learning environment, where all individuals would be treated fairly and with respect, regardless of their status. It directed chancellors to provide programs that would help students develop healthy attitudes toward different kinds of people, and stated that employees would be treated on the basis of their contributions, not their personal characteristics.

"There was somewhat of an issue as to whether Executive Order Three was sufficient, and many of the speakers argued that it was not," Manring said.

An impressive audience turned out to hear the different opinions. Curators Hugh Stephenson, Theodore Beckett, Mary Gillespie, and Paul T. Combs attended the hearing, as well as Sarah Welch, student representative to the Board, and UM System President Manuel Pacheco. Curator Malaika B. Horne listened to the speakers via phone conference.

"I really didn't know [how many people] to expect, because it's not a typical issue like budgeting," Manring said. "We had gotten the biggest auditorium we could get our hands on, just to be sure. You could say there was a pretty healthy attendance."

Because the hearing was only informational, no immediate action came out of it. Manring said the executive committee would probably make a recommendation on the issue at the January meeting of the Board of Curators.

"At this moment, I remain cautiously optimistic," Rankins said. "We are waiting to see what their response will be. In the face of this overwhelming support, we would assume that if [the Board of Curators] is really taking into account the views that were expressed, then they will be forced to take action on this."

"I would consider [the hearing] a success because the students' voices were heard," Rankins said. "Whether the board chooses to listen is their prerogative."

This article was reprinted with permission from The Current.

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