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Editorial | TCF debacle needs new transparency, decisive action by CSL

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 12:02

The debate surrounding the right of Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF) to claim exemption from the university’s discrimination policy playing out over the past months has brought the campus to an impasse. Since the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate derecognized the group and the process moved through the Committee on Student Life (CSL), the onus will now, presumably, land on the Chaplaincy and the TCU Judiciary determine a proper and final solution. In creating this situation, the CSL has shirked its responsibility to be a helpful player in this increasingly stagnant issue. What the student body deserves now is a measure of transparency from both the CSL and TCF in their deliberations, as well as the kind of mature decision-making that recognizes the extent to which this affects the lives of Tufts students.

One of the biggest roadblocks through the past few months has been an abject lack of clarity on the part of both TCF and CSL. TCF’s constitution is written such that that it cannot enumerate or clarify what the group looks for in its leadership, because following the “tenets of faith” and striving to follow ideals of a religion are innately vague and based on personal belief. Yet this opens up the possibility of deciding upon candidates for leadership with opaque measurements that make it virtually impossible to prevent discrimination in the group. The vagueness of the rules is inherent to the functionality of the group, but also allows the problem to persist. Still, TCF should absolutely clarify what it looks for in its candidates in its constitution, as is required for all other recognized clubs, or face continued derecognition and defunding. The question of whether TCF’s leadership requirements merit religious exemption from any nondiscrimination policy is a separate discussion to be had, apparently, with the Chaplaincy. But apart from becoming a more transparent, both TCF and CSL must respect the need for open dialogue.

The CSL is also at fault because of its failure to engage the student body or relevant parties on what has become a contentious and complicated debate. The CSL’s determination that the debate over recognition for TCF should go to the Chaplaincy and TCU Judiciary offered no direction and, indeed, put a student issue in the hands of an inherently biased, unelected group — the Chaplaincy — as opposed to the office that is meant to handle campus-wide student life, the CSL. The debate had already gone on too long for the CSL to have not offered more guidance. In what it likely fears as taking a stance of objectivity, the CSL rather has shirked its responsibilities and left the issue in limbo.

Certainly, Tufts needs the representation of all kinds of voices — religious, secular, gay, straight, of all backgrounds and beliefs — to truly live up to the liberal arts education it attests to offer. TCF’s ability to exist and practice, as a conservative Christian group on a secular liberal campus, is as important to our mission as other centers or groups of all stripes are. Still, the tension revolving around questions of rights, morality and sexuality is not impossible to resolve.

At the end of the day, what Tufts needs is equality of voices and people, together. It remains to be seen whether any religious group will take the opportunity offered to them by the CSL’s policy, and the leadership of the Chaplaincy also appears to be on the verge of a change. If and when the Chaplaincy does take the responsibility handed to them by the CSL — the responsibility of essentially deciding a religious group’s doctrine for it — they will need to do so with a steady and objective mindset, remaining critical of the CSL’s actions. We expect nothing less of the Judiciary should TCF or any religious group apply for TCU recognition having been granted this exception. Given the difficult situation in which the CSL has placed each party, they should take a critical look at TCF’s constitution as it stands and evaluate whether such a document has a place in a Senate-recognized organization. If TCF refuses to amend it to be more specific or less exclusionary in its wording, they should not be granted exemption or recognition, clear and simple. At the end of the day, however, standing still only widens a growing gulf between a needed part of our community and the misinformed student body.

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