Students ill-served by new policy

Aug. 11, 2013 @ 09:24 AM

On Friday, we learned that what the latest iteration of the UNC Board of Governors lacks in courage, it makes up for in callous pragmatism.

The board - albeit with quite a few different members - last year approved a forward-thinking pilot program for gender-neutral housing that would have given homosexual students the option of sharing on-campus suites with someone of the opposite sex.

Now a board loaded with fresh appointees from the General Assembly, which had threatened legislation against the housing idea, has killed the plan on its own.

In fact, as The Herald-Sun's Gregory Childress reported, the policy adopted by the board bears a lot of resemblance to Senate Bill 658. That bill's primary sponsor, Lincoln County Republican David Curtis, memorably said: "UNC did not become a national leader in academics by wasting time and tax dollars on frivolous social experiments."

"Both members of the House and Senate made it clear they were going to pass a law to this effect, and I think the board also felt it was important to maintain our autonomy over housing policy rather than the legislature setting it into state law," said Peter Hans, board chairman.

The board also apparently felt it was important to make this decision without discussion and during the summer, rightfully drawing criticism from Shane Windmeyer, executive director and founder of Campus Pride. He noted that a transgender student at UNC Charlotte committed suicide last year after harassment by other students.

"For the UNC Board of Governors to pass it by consent, without discussion, doing it over the summer when students are gone, is not only disrespectful to this young person who lost her life, but it's also reckless and careless when it comes to campus safety."

So, in this game of chicken, the Board of Governors swerved first. Caught in their path: Students who want to feel safer residing at UNC college campuses.

The board's decision earned some praise on Friday, though. Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, said this of the policy:

"We applaud the UNC Board of Governors for passing a uniform housing policy that will prohibit students of the opposite sex from living together in on-campus housing unless they are siblings or legally married. With this uniform policy, our public universities and colleges can get back to the business of educating our students and preparing them to be productive members of our society, instead of promoting co-habitation among students of the opposite sex."

It is doubtful that gender-neutral housing would have led to a hotbed of college promiscuity, given that such housing has been offered at 66 private universities and 32 public schools, including eight of UNC's peers. Duke University offers a similar program.

Regardless, the board's decision now puts the choice back in the hands of LGBT students: Stay on-campus and give their housing dollars to a university system that puts political expediency ahead of their concerns, or seek off-campus options that feel more comfortable.