By Gleason S. Rowe, Student Representative Board of Visitors

The George Mason University Board of Visitors (BOV) took a firm stance this past Wednesday on Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s letter regarding nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation. Specifically, Cuccinelli believes that universities that have policies enumerating sexual orientation as a category under which discrimination is prohibited should remove them due to the fact that the commonwealth has not included such categories in its policies. He stated in his letter that “Such invalid policies create, at a minimum, confusion about the law and, at worst, a litany of instances in which the school’s operation would need to change in order to come into conformance.” His recommendation has undoubtedly had contentious reaction throughout the commonwealth.

Soon after the attorney general’s letter was received, Rector Ernst Volgenau, the leader of the Board, took action. He promptly drafted a statement on behalf of the Visitors and himself stating that “the Board of Visitors extends its full and unconditional support to all members of the university community and encourages continued focus on diversity and mutual respect that has become our hallmark.” Rector Volgenau’s response was swift and well-received but there was more definitive action to be taken at the next meeting.

As George Mason University’s was the first Board of Visitors meeting held in the state following Cuccinelli’s letter, all eyes were on us in regards to what action would be taken. The Board could have chosen to remain silent on the recommendation, but I am pleased to say that was not even considered an option by the Visitors.

The Board saved the Cuccinelli letter for later in the afternoon of the full-day meeting. As discussion began, many were eager to assert their opinions on how to react. Professor Peter Pober, the faculty representative to the BOV and the chair of the Faculty Senate, expressed concern and disappointment about the letter and the ramifications it has had for faculty members. Pober advocated for a strong reaction to the letter. There was no disagreement between any on the Board that no form of discrimination can be tolerated and that we must protect all members of our community. The question became: What action do we take? From there, much of the discussion focused on what kind of response would be firm enough to assure concerned students, faculty and staff that our policies would not change. It was decided that a resolution must be made to assuage the concerns of the Mason community.

The BOV, comprised of business leaders, legal experts and technology experts — Republican and Democrat alike — voted unanimously to adopt the resolution constructed, reiterating our intention to maintain our current policy. The adopted policy asserted: “Be it resolved by the Board of Visitors of George Mason University that it remains deeply committed to equal treatment of all persons in their dealings with the university in any and all contexts.”

Mason students have taken action to protect our community from Cuccinelli’s desired changes as well. Krista Muise and David Arditi, secretary of the Diversity Committee of Student Government and president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association respectively, attended the morning session to inform the Board that their organizations have taken measures to pass nondiscrimination rhetoric in hopes that the university and Board would adopt similar documents and reaffirm their policies. Both spoke eloquently of the importance on the protection of all members of the Mason community and, as such, our policies should reflect our dedication to diversity. Furthermore, Student Government plans to start a letter-writing initiative to the legislature, urging that sexual-orientation be added to the list of those classes the state government protests. Ironically enough, Cuccinelli himself is a twice graduate of Mason. He received his J.D. from the School of Law and his Master’s Degree in International Transactions. He recently visited Mason’s Arlington campus where he was met by a sizable number of current Mason students protesting his letter.

I am so proud that the students, administration and the Board of Visitors have taken these strong actions to support our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning community even under the pressure from the state. Mason has truly lived up to its name not only as one of the most diverse universities in the world, but also one that values the unconditional protection of all.

Gleason S. Rowe
Student Representative,
Board of Visitors