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University alters nondiscrimination policy

With relatively little public notice, the University made several alterations to its nondiscrimination policy in mid-February. According to Diversity and Access Office Director Rosa Gonzalez, the changes to the Statement on Nondiscrimination Policy were prompted by a “need” for modification and clarification and included only technical and administrative changes.

“The University periodically reviews and updates its policies, including to meet the requirements of currently applicable law,” Gonzalez wrote in an email to The Daily.

Gonzalez responded on behalf of the Office of the President, the Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs.

Administrators did not report the modifications to the public.

In response to a question about why the University chose not to publicize the modifications, Gonzalez said it was “likely because [they] were seen as changes that were largely technical or administrative in nature, rather than the kind of change that occurred with the inclusion of gender identity several years back.”

The new statement includes three notable changes.

The former policy stated that “Stanford University admits students of either sex and any race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the University.” The new statement now includes the term “qualified students.”

“The ‘admits qualified students’ language was added into our policy in 2010,” Gonzalez said. “The word ‘qualified’ was added to conform with the generally applicable legal principle that admitted students must be able to meet essential program requirements.”

Administrators also decided to add the word “unlawful” to the second clause of the nondiscrimination policy. The phrase was changed from “prohibits discrimination” to “prohibits unlawful discrimination.”

However, Gonzalez said the modification is “clarifying only and does not represent a shift in the University’s interpretation of its policy.”

“With regard to the addition of the word ‘unlawful,’ the phrase ‘consistent with its obligations under the law’ has been included in the University’s policy for some time,” Gonzalez said. “This phrase has been intended to express the principle that Stanford’s obligations under its nondiscrimination policy are co-extensive with our obligations under the law.”

Lastly, University administrators modified the end of the statement to “broaden” the scope of the policy. The change was made from “in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarships and loan programs, and athletic and other University-administered programs” to “in the administration of the University’s programs and activities.”

“These changes were made in order to expand the scope of individuals to whom the University’s nondiscrimination policy applies,” Gonzalez said. “It is no longer limited in its application to students, applicants and employees, but rather it now applies more broadly to participants in the University’s programs generally.”

Gonzalez said the “point person” for the nondiscrimination policy is the director of the Diversity and Access Office. However, the provost is in charge of approving any changes. The president is briefed on the changes, but University officials did not elaborate on the role, if any, that the president plays in updating the policy.

“I approve all policy changes except those that are in the purview of the Faculty Senate,” Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ’82 wrote in an email to The Daily. “Changes in wording to clarify existing policies, like this one, happen all the time. Substantive policy changes happen less frequently.”

“For example, in the last few days, at least five policy changes have been brought to me, two involving admissions (one wording, one substantive), one on faculty housing, one on faculty leaves, one about students of newly hired faculty,” he said. “And I’m probably forgetting others.”

The legal implication of the new wording remains unclear, though Gonzalez said the Office of General Counsel was consulted.

“As a practice I confer with the Office of General Counsel on changes to policies, but as is the case with the larger society, the communications between the University’s attorneys and its Stanford clients are not publicly disclosed,” she said.

The last change in the nondiscrimination policy occurred in 2007, when it was updated to include “gender identity.” Gonzalez said student policies in the Stanford Bulletin are reviewed at least once a year.

Prior to 2007, the nondiscrimination statement on past Stanford bulletins remained unchanged as far back as 2000-01.

Former ASSU President Angelina Cardona ’11 said she was not consulted about the modifications.

“It is uncharacteristic of the relationship between the ASSU and the administration to have any changes go without at the very least reaching out to the student body president,” Cardona said. “To my knowledge, they did not reach out to any students regarding this matter, so I’m surprised and disappointed that there was not better communication on the issue.”

“They usually always reach out to students and student leaders to engage in dialogue before making any changes,” she added.

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