Tufts University announced in early December that it would allow student religious groups to maintain religious requirements for its leaders. The announcement overturned an earlier ruling that an evangelical Christian organization had violated the college’s nondiscrimination policy.
Here are the letters:
December 7, 2012
Earlier this week, the Committee on Student Life released its unanimous decision on the appeal of the Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF) of the decision by the TCU Judiciary to derecognize TCF. The Committee also outlined a new process that will require religious groups that choose to have criteria for leadership positions within their organizations to clearly define and justify those criteria to reflect the group’s particular religious doctrine. In coming to its decision, the Committee was faced with complex as well as deeply felt issues. These issues are not unique to Tufts: Universities and colleges around the country have found it challenging to determine how best to answer these questions for their own campus communities.
I believe that the Committee has made a thoughtful decision that is in keeping with Tufts’ commitment to a diverse and welcoming campus community and to a vibrant spiritual life on campus. The policy and process developed by the Committee will enable Tufts to respect the important principles of both nondiscrimination and regard for religious beliefs. I recognize that not all will agree with the specific approach the Committee has adopted, but I hope that as our university community continues to discuss these issues, it will do so with respect for the differing opinions of all involved.
December 5, 2012
All Students, Faculty and Staff
Co-Chairs, Committee on Student Life
Dear Members of the Tufts Community,
As many of you know, this fall the Tufts Community Union Judiciary (TCUJ) de-recognized the Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF) over concerns that the TCF's criteria for leaders violated Tufts University's nondiscrimination policy. The TCF appealed that decision to the Committee on Student Life (CSL), a standing committee consisting of faculty and students. The CSL has carefully considered the appeal, and we'd like to share this decision with you now.
The CSL found that the TCUJ had acted in accordance with available policy, and thus acted appropriately in de-recognizing the TCF. The appeal, however, identified a void in policy which led the CSL to explore the conditions under which Student Religious Groups (SRGs) could select for leadership exemplars of their faith based on characteristics not necessarily shared by all SRG members. The CSL determined that SRGs should be permitted to select leaders based on doctrinal requirements.
In certain cases, criteria for leadership positions may conflict with Tufts University's nondiscrimination policy. As religion itself is protected under the nondiscrimination policy, conflicts may be unavoidable. The CSL has carefully crafted a policy to support the University's commitments to safeguarding spiritual life on campus and maintaining an environment that upholds the nondiscrimination policy.
From this point forward, all SRGs must justify on doctrinal grounds any departures from Tufts' nondiscrimination policy in that their leadership positions require. The University Chaplain will evaluate the justification, and if satisfied that the described criteria for leadership are required by a given religion, will allow the SRG to apply to the TCUJ for recognition.
In evaluating applications for recognition, the TCUJ will ensure that any such approved criteria are explicitly described in easy-to-understand language. This language will be consolidated, summarized, and made available to the community via the University Chaplaincy webpage. The TCF is now welcome to reapply to the TCUJ for recognition in accordance with this new policy.
While the CSL's jurisdiction extends only to the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, the University's senior administration will work with the University Chaplain and school leadership to apply this policy University-wide.
The CSL decision in this case is available online at http://uss.tufts.edu/studentaffairs/handbook/SRGrecognition.asp.
We have submitted to the Tufts Daily an opinion piece that explains in more detail the Committee's reasoning on this issue. We are grateful to the many members of the University who have offered thoughtful comments on a complex issue.
Committee on Student Life
Committee on Student Life