Last night, by comfortable margins, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill prohibiting Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy for student groups. The policy, which requires that student groups open leadership positions to all Vanderbilt students, even students who disagree with the groups’ core beliefs, has sparked a dispute between the university and some student religious organizations, which argue that the policy effectively dilutes their religious identity. The bill initially banned all-comers policies only at state universities, but an amendment extended the bill’s coverage to private institutions that receive more than $24 million in state subsidies — which just happens to be the amount Tennessee gives Vanderbilt. The bill does not actually cut off funding, for the moment, but sponsors threaten to do so in future if Vanderbilt does not change its policy. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for signature.
A couple of terms ago, in CLS v. Martinez, the Supreme Court held that a similar all-comers policy at the University of California-Hastings was constitutional. As I’ve argued before, though, even if an all-comers policy is constitutional, it’s very misguided. The point of campus diversity is to allow the expression of various viewpoints. It’s hard to see how a group can express a viewpoint if it cannot choose leaders who share its beliefs.