Memo to Donald Kennedy (Issues of concern to the Stanford gay community)

I am again writing to you about the proposed gay scholarships. I have chosen to make this an open letter for several reasons. The University has a history of discussing gay issues behind closed doors and in small groups. This is an accusation that I do not make lightly. In my dealings with high-level administrators I find that an alarming number of them have misconceptions about policy towards gay people. I also find that many of them know nothing about various attempts that have been made to change University policy. It is possible that your senior staff members are either forgetful or downright ignorant, but I find it more likely that they are never involved in such decision-making in the first place.

I also object to the representation of gay people you seek. It appears that you seek none. This I find surprising. In 1980 you were interviewed by me and several other members of the Student Presidential Search Committee as part of our selection process for the new University President. One of our major areas of concern was the diversity of the student community at Stanford. We wanted a President who would seek out members of different student groups so as to understand their concerns better. You have failed to do so with gay people. You continue to be a responder rather than an initiator, responding as directly as possible to specific complaints, but ignoring the larger issues.

Why is it that no gay people were involved in the scholarship decision until the Gay & Lesbian Alliance at Stanford (GLAS) complained? Even then, you limited your focus to GLAS. Let me point out that GLAS is not representative of gay people at Stanford. It serves mostly a social function. Most gay people on campus have little or nothing to do with GLAS. How have you sought out the opinions of that community?

I was surprised to read in the Daily on Friday, February 18th, quoting your assistant, Bob Hamrdla that, "The University will hold an open meeting 'probably next Wednesday' to discuss the topic. Interested students and staff will be able to pose questions, Hamrdla said." I called Bob Hamrdla that afternoon and told him that I was very concerned about this issue. On the following Wednesday I was surprised to find no announcement of the meeting. I called your office, but they had not heard of it. I then called Bob Hamrdla's office. His secretary knew about the meeting, but wouldn't tell me anything until I told her who I was. Then Bob got on the phone and told me where the meeting would be held. I complained that it hadn't been announced. He told me that it hadn't been intended for "large numbers of people." Perhaps he doesn't realize how many gay people there are at Stanford.

I don't mean to stray too far from my topic. I raise these objections only to explain why I am drawing the discussion into the public forum. I do so because I feel that these issues need to be discussed openly by many people, and I don't believe you will take the initiative to make that happen.

Let me start by discussing two different issues that have somehow become twisted into one. The first issue is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The second issue is the idea of a gay scholarship. It appears that Jim Lyons is guilty of mixing these issues in 1976, and you have followed his lead in the current decision.

Let me give a succinct argument that should convince you that the question of discrimination is irrelevant to the scholaship issue. The University currently administers a scholarship program where donors can specify a preference for students from particular ethnic groups, from particular states, or with particular majors. The gay community is arguing that donors should be able to include a preference for a gay student. This would not constitute discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, just as the other preference categories do not consitute discrimination on the basis of race, home state, or major. The reason is quite simple. These scholarships do not directly affect the amount of aid received by any individual student. A student's financial aid package is determined on the basis of financial need. None of these scholarships change that package. They merely change the source of the aid, not the level.

Let me elaborate. This is what we call a zero-sum game. The University determines the financial aid package for each student without regard to sex, race, home-state, major, or, presumably, sexual orientation. Consider a hypothetical student who receives $500 in financial aid. Now consider a hypothetical donor who gives a $500 scholarship to the University and states that they prefer the scholarship to go to a student who meets criterion X (he's from Wisconsin, for example, or he's chicano, or she's a she). If our hypothetical student meets criterion X, then he/she is given the scholarship from our hypothetical donor. That is where her/his financial aid comes from. Consider another student who receives a package of $500 but who does not meet criterion X, or criterion Y, or any of the other criteria specified by those donors who care to make such stipulatons. That person will still receive his/her $500 in aid. It will simply come out of a different pot.

Next Consider the unfortunate case where there is a great deal of money given for students who meet criterion X. If there aren't enough students who meet criterion X and who are eligible for aid, then our hypothetical donor's money may just end up going to a person who does not meet criterion X. This is where the preference versus requirement issue comes in. Donors are allowed to state preferences, but not requirements. Again, the level of financial aid is the absolute determiner.

Thus, a gay preference scholarship will not involve discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This is not a surprising conclusion to draw. If it did constitute discrimination, then the University's current preference scholarships for other groups would consitute discrimination.

I could ramble on for pages and pages about the University's non-discriminaton policy. Because, as I have pointed out, it is not an issue in the current scholaship decision, I will limit myself to a few paragraphs. In 1980 I and several other members of the Gay People's Union investigated the situation regarding non-discrimination policies at Stanford. We found that the University drafted its own policy regarding staff decisions in 1977. The University will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the administration of its policies towards faculty and staff (University Guide Memo 22.1). There is no such policy for students. You will find in the Bulletin and various other documents a student policy printed. That policy is taken verbatum from the IRS. The University is required by law to have such a policy in its publications. In 1980 we suggested to you, then-Provost Kennedy, that Stanford should draft its own non-discrimination policy for students. By the time you got around to responding, you were President Kennedy. You turned us down.

I believe you made the wrong choice then. I believe this situation points out the need for Stanford to decide what its non-discrimination policy for students should be, and to state it explicitely. I was infuriated by your remarks to the press that this scholarship would violate "policy dating from the mid-1970's at Stanford." If the University has such a policy, it should state it. If it does not have such a policy, or fails to clearly state it, you should not refer to it in such public statements.

But as I hope I have pointed out, this was a red herring anyway. The question of non-discrimination is irrelevant to the current decision. There are really two main questions to be addressed. The University has an existing program of preference scholarships which it administers. There are many categories that are allowed in this program. The first question is whether or not gay people should be included as a category. The second question is whether gay people can be included as a category (i.e., whether that introduces a logistical problem for the administration of the program).

The University currently allows a donor to specify a preference for: a member of an ethnic minority, a woman, a student from a particular home-state, and a student with a particular major. I know that these categories exist, but I do not think my list is exhaustive. One very interesting point is that the University does not allow a donor to specify a preference for a caucasian student.

One has to wonder, "why these particular categories?" I have not heard a good answer to that question. I believe that the answer will not be a simple one. As is usually the case, the University has an evolving policy. Different groups were added at different points in time. The University probably has never sat down and decided exactly which to include and which to exclude, the program is the result of a long history of small decisions. I am speculating here, but I would guess that most of the groups were selected on the basis of the University's Affirmative Action goals. That would explain the inclusion of women and ethnic minorites and the exclusion of whites as a category. The other categories are probably included because they don't seem objectionable to anyone. Anything that raises money without stirring up trouble is great.

I would argue that if Affirmative Action goals are the basis for inclusion of some categories, then gay people should be included. Gay people experience discrimination in society at large.

It appears to me that the University is turning down the scholarships on the basis of the second issue I have raised, the question of whether the University can include gay people as a category. At this "public" meeting that was held, several of the gay people present made the suggestion that the financial aid form could be modified to obtain the necessary information. The form currently allows a person to indicate that they are a member of a particular ethnic minority. This is how the minority preference is administered. Students are not required to identify themselves as belonging to a particular ethnic minority, but they are allowed to.

Why couldn't the University do the same thing for gays, we asked? Why couldn't the financial aid form be worded something like this, "Many of the University's donors specify a preference for a member of particular group that has been discriminated against in society at large. If you wish to identify yourself as a member of such a group, please feel free to do so by checking the appropriate box(es) below. This information will not be passed on to any other University office, nor will it affect the total amount of financial aid you receive:" And then follow with a list of groups: ethnic minorities, a blank for women, and a blank for gay/lesbian. This would allow individuals to voluntarily identify themselves as gay. If such information were collected, the University would be able to assign gay preference scholarships as quickly and easily as it currently assigns ethnic preference scholarships.

Iris Brest told us at that meeting that the University is unwilling to take such an action. She said that the University considers the question to be potentially embarrassing. I assume that she meant that people filling out the form might be embarrassed by the question. This points out to me that she does not understand the meaning of the word "gay". The same mistake has been made by yourself and others who have been writing about this issue.

Go back to Jim Lyons 1976 statement that "sexual orientation is a private matter." You and Lyons and Brest all seem to believe that saying that one is gay is making a statement about one's personal life. That is not so. You seem to equate it with a statement about sexual behavior. When I say that I am gay, I have not said anything about my sex life. I have merely said that I am attracted to members of my own sex. I haven't said how I act on those feelings. A student who says that he/she has three children makes much more of a personal statement about her/his sex life than I would by saying I am gay, and yet the University does not find it potentially embarrassing to ask how many children a student has.

I find the embarrassment argument weak. I don't believe people will be offended as long as the financial aid form makes it clear why the question is being asked. Naturally people might be offended if the form asked, "What is your sexual preference?" Presumably the makers of the form have more tact than that. Heterosexuals who encounter the question would simply skip over the "gay" blank because it doesn't apply to them. I can only see them objecting if they didn't believe the suggestion that gay people have been discriminated against in society at large. Such a person presumably would not have been intelligent enough to be admitted to Stanford. Gay people reading the question would either identify or not identify themselves depending upon their level of openess. I for one would check the box. I am gay and I'm not embarrassed to state it.

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last updated 01/01/2020