Orientation may be part of anti-bias rule

President Elson Floyd recommends the addition, which UM curators will consider.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:11 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Nondiscrimination policies at the University of Missouri could include a new classification — sexual orientation — if the Board of Curators approves the change this week.

The proposed change, subject to a vote Thursday when the governing board meets in St. Louis, was recommended most recently by UM system president Elson Floyd.

“Students approached Dr. Floyd when he arrived in January about the possibility of revisiting the sexual orientation issue,” UM spokesman Joe Moore said. “At that time, Dr. Floyd said that he would conduct a review of existing policies and would recommend changes he felt were necessary.”

What it means

The change would be made to those university policies that list classifications of people protected against discrimination. Those policies include grievance procedures for staff and students.

University leaders have relied on a policy adopted in 1999 that says no one can be discriminated against for any personal characteristic. No classifications of people are specified. That policy will be left alone.

“Our administrators maintain that this is not a change of policy, just a clarification of policy,” Moore said. “By clarifying (the language) they will make it that much more clear that sexual orientation cannot be a subject of discrimination.”

Back in the public eye

In 1999, the last time the proposed change came before the board, curators rejected it based on the recommendation of then-UM system President Manuel Pacheco, who thought it violated state law.

But since then, university employees, students and organizations have pressed the university to explicitly set forth the classification of “sexual orientation” in its anti-discrimination policies.

Editor in Chief Tim Elfrink of The Maneater said that in the 2½ years he has been with the campus newspaper, the sexual orientation classification has been one of the three or four issues the paper has consistently championed.

“This is one of the most visible signs that the university is not taking a progressive stance on issues of diversity,” Elfrink said.

He said that The Maneater has printed more than a hundred stories about the classification since 1995 and that he has written five or six editorials about the issue since his time on staff.

“I believe our willingness to cover it has put the issue in the public eye,” Elfrink said.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center has also advocated for the change. On Monday, a staffer who answered the phone said no one could comment on the impending vote.

Approval by curators would add sexual orientation to a list of protected classifications that prevent discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or status as a Vietnam-era veteran.

Although sexual orientation is not listed as a classification in policies governing the four-campus system, over the years every school and college at MU has adopted such language. In February, the College of Engineering became the last to add the language.

Issue effects many

The lack of specific language was personal for Jeff Truesdell. A 1982 graduate of the MU School of Journalism and former reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Truesdell was courted last spring for a teaching post at the journalism school. But Truesdell, now a freelance correspondent for People magazine, withdrew from consideration because the university does not offer domestic partner benefits.

“I withdrew from the search because the University of Missouri chose not to recognize my status as a gay man with a longtime partner who was deserving of the same benefits that the university extends to the spouses of its heterosexual employees,” said Truesdell, who also teaches at a university and a college in Florida.

He said the potential change in the nondiscrimination language is “an essential first step for the university.”

“I appreciate that the university is trying to join the ranks of the other universities that have already gone through this process,” Truesdell said.

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