Purdue’s statement on Religious Freedom Restoration Act disappoints students

By Dgoodman
By Ian H., Purdue University student, guest writer
In response to the newly implemented Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, many universities in the state have released statements affirming their support of equality and non-discrimination. I was very disappointed when the response from my school, Purdue University, stood out for all the wrong reasons. Purdue’s statement on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act left a little bit to be desired. It is the policy of Purdue’s Board of Trustees to make no statements regarding political and social issues. This policy, while perhaps saving the university some grief when it comes to making statements that some might not agree with, can also be frustrating to those who want reassurance that those in charge of the university are on the right side of history. I see two main problems with the statement my school released. The first issue is the vague language. The statement makes murky references towards “nondiscrimination,” and never once mentions the legislature by name. Statements by other universities in the state of Indiana make direct statements about the specific nature of the legislature and give clear reasons as to why it conflicts with the goals of their university. These statements are biting, powerful, and impactful. They get the message across that the university is committed to the fair treatment of all its students, faculty, staff, and visitors. Roughly one quarter of Purdue’s statement, on the other hand, is simply quoting the University’s non-discrimination policy. The policy itself is fairly easy to imagine — it prohibits discrimination based on sex, religion, color, age, sexual orientation, and a laundry list of other categorizations. This policy is nothing groundbreaking, nothing new, and certainly not reassuring to those wanting to know that Purdue is firmly opposed to specific legislature that has the potential to be abused in such a horrible way. The statement is cookie-cutter, vanilla, and bland. As a student of Purdue University, I expect stronger statements from those who represent my education; a wishy-washy regurgitation of a generic university policy isn't going to cut it. The second issue is the signature. Depauw University’s president, Brian Casey, signed his statement with his personal name. Indiana University’s Michael McRobbie did the same. Butler, Ball State, Valparaiso, and Hanover all noted that their statements were coming directly from their presidents. Purdue, however, signed the letter as being from “The Office of The President.” I understand that the issue is sensitive for some, and it can be a bad idea to attach your name to a social or political issue. When you are representing an institution of higher education, however, you have a duty to put yourself out there for the good of your students and personally represent the goals and values of the university. That’s part of the duty of being president. The letter has since been changed to be signed by Mitch Daniels personally, but I suspect that is largely due to the criticism he has received for leaving it out in the first place. I love Purdue, and I love that I’m getting my education at such a respected institution, but I have to say I was very disappointed with their response to this issue.