Student government committee approves resolution calling on ETSU to ‘disaffiliate’ with non-inclusive colleges

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Milligan University personnel decision prompts move that heads next to full senate

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – East Tennessee State University’s student government senate will consider a resolution Oct. 27 calling on ETSU’s administration to “cut select partnerships” including athletic events with Milligan University.

The resolution is in response to the forced resignation earlier this year of an LGBTQ professor at the private Christian college.

The Student Government Association (SGA) academic affairs committee voted 4-1 in favor of the resolution, which will be considered by the full SGA senate Oct. 27.

The move comes in the wake of an Oct. 2 News Channel 11 story about calls for change among some at Milligan University following the resignation.

The resolution’s sponsor, Seth Manning, said the crux of his argument is that if ETSU resources are used in events affiliated with Milligan, a protected class of ETSU’s community — LGBTQ individuals — is being at least indirectly discriminated against in violation of ETSU’s mission and its legal authority.

Milligan can discriminate against LGBTQ people because of its status as a private religious institution. As a public university, ETSU cannot.

“I really do think this is a legal and constitutional issue at its heart, but like I said I also think that this is a moral issue,” Manning said following the committee meeting. “I really think that this kind of usurps several different categories and infringes on people’s rights and that’s kind of where the development of this legislation came from.

“We’re not saying Milligan doesn’t have a right to do it, but we’re saying ETSU does have a legal obligation to protect its students, and we can’t do that when we’re entrenched so deeply with Milligan when Milligan is supporting these atrocious policies.”

In addition to its specific language regarding Milligan, the resolution calls for ETSU to take action against any other universities with discriminatory policies and procedures toward sexuality, gender identity, race, age, religion, disability status or sex.

The main affected activities — should the motion pass and ETSU’s administration take action — would include:

  • Ending all athletic scheduling;
  • abandoning pursuit of future academic agreements; and
  • terminating partnerships in which university monies would be paid to any affected universities.

Those actions would be reversed if an institution reversed discriminatory policies.

Manning introduced an earlier version of the resolution last week. Senators on the committee discussed an amended version produced after Manning discussed the document with fellow SGA members and ETSU’s administration.

It “officially condemns” Milligan for what it describes as “an affront to human rights and dignity.”

The decision wasn’t unanimous, though. Senator Matthew Calhoun, who voted against the amended resolution, hesitantly expressed his opposition.

Dustin Kidd, the committee’s chair, encouraged Calhoun to voice his opinion.

“There are students that feel the same way you do and you’re probably being the voice for that silent minority — or it might be the silent majority,” Kidd said. “It’s your job to voice your opinion because there are going to be several students that agree with you.”

“I am personally just not for the entirety of it,” Calhoun said. “I believe that it is Milligan’s right to do such a thing…”

“I personally don’t see a problem with it, and it’s not — I don’t dislike the LGBT community — I just don’t believe that Milligan is in the wrong for doing such.”

Jake Cartwright is one of the four committee members who approved sending the amended resolution to the full SGA senate. The Quillen College of Medicine student attended Lipscomb University in Nashville, a Christian school that shares a denominational background with Milligan.

“Every university will make mistakes and definitely should try to correct those mistakes, and Milligan definitely made a mistake here,” Cartwright said.

He called the resolution “a great piece of legislation.” He said ETSU’s influence is very broad regionally, including the many physicians and other health sciences professionals associated with its name.

“Everyone should be given same respect and time and patience, so I just think the sooner that we adopt this the sooner we’ll be better off and a better university.”

Kidd, who called the issue “a nuanced situation” following Calhoun’s remarks, added that he believed the resolution and what might follow could have wide repercussions and significance.

The resolution asks ETSU to take “immediate action within reason” on its specific directives. It also requests formation of a university committee “to analyze where further action can be pursued.”

ETSU spokesman Joe Smith said Tuesday the university’s administration would not comment on the resolution until a final vote was taken.

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