Univ. of Missouri may alter policies to fight discrimination

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- The four-campus University of Missouri system's governing board is expected to consider a nondiscrimination policy this week to protect people regardless of their sexual orientation.

A similar proposal supported by faculty, staff and student groups on all four campuses failed five years ago.

The board of curators is set to meet Thursday and Friday at the school's St. Louis campus. The policy is the first item on their agenda.

Curators could approve wording barring discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability and status as a Vietnam-era veteran.

The potential change would include a statement recognizing the legal rights of religious organizations and the armed forces to follow their own policies regarding gays and lesbians.

The change would be made to employment and grievance policies for students and employees.

In 1999, curators approved a general statement, committing the university to maintaining a positive work and learning environment for all but not mentioning sexual orientation.

Some students and faculty had sought specific language at that time to bar discrimination for reasons of sexual orientation.

And some university units, including all of the separate schools and colleges on the Columbia campus, altered their own policies to explicitly bar discrimination for reasons of sexual orientation.

The university's leadership has changed since the 1999 vote. All nine board members are new. In January, Elson Floyd became university president, succeeding Manuel Pacheco.

The University of Missouri is now among only 15 research universities nationwide and four in the Big 12 not to include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies.

"This has been a student-led effort on all four campuses," said Robin Cook, national issues director of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri. "It's really time to go ahead and do this."

The university system does not offer health-care coverage or other benefits to the partners of gay or lesbian employees. That would not change under the proposed change to the nondiscrimination policy.

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