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Port: UND made the right call by halting new gender inclusion policy

Making policy in a knee-jerk response to trending media topics is as unwise as making it based on anecdotes.

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UND President Andrew Aramacost
File Photo
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MINOT, N.D. — The University of North Dakota was considering a draft policy that would have punished misgendering and allowed the use of even facilities as sensitive as locker rooms based on the declared gender of an individual.

Now the institution isn't.

“As a result of the recent discussions and because existing policies already provide equal opportunity protections to all of our campus members, UND will cease its work on this draft policy and will not implement it,” President Andrew Armacost said in a statement announcing the news .

This was the right call, for a number of reasons. It can't have been an easy decision for Armacost, and I suspect the cynics will see this as UND caving to socially conservative interests who were critical of the policy, but this outcome is what best serves the institution.

As Armacost notes, UND already has expansive and thorough policies about things like harassment and discrimination. What's more, as we've learned through the debate over this proposed policy, there seem to be little in the way of a problem on the UND campus when it comes to discrimination of harassment against transgender issues. We've heard anecdotes, of course, but there's no data reflecting that.

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It's not wise to make policy based on anecdotes.

If there are problems with some students not feeling welcome on campus, I suspect it has to do with those existing policies being enforced with insufficient rigor.

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski spoke out against the rule, and made this point during an interview with me on the Plain Talk podcast .

I'm certain at least some of the people pursuing this rule were well-intentioned, motivated by a desire to ensure that UND is a welcoming place for everyone. But others, I suspect, were engaged in this as an exercise in fad policy. Transgender issues are making headlines, so that means UND needs transgender rules, or so their thinking goes.

Making policy in a knee-jerk response to trending media topics is as unwise as making it based on anecdotes.

Another point to consider, which I made in a recent column , is that UND doesn't have a great track record when it makes policy decisions based on the politics of the moment.

Many were afraid that any rule promulgated by the university in this overheated political environment would be enforced unfairly, and given recent history, from a student wrongly punished for sexual assault to a campus police chief who left because of political discrimination , UND doesn't have much standing to dismiss this concern.

Still, we all have an interest in ensuring one of our state's largest institutions of higher education is a nice place for everyone on campus.

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In a released statement reacting to Aramcost's announcement, the North Dakota Catholic Conference, which first learned of this draft rule back in October when I wrote about it , made an important point: "No one should feel unwelcome on our state’s campuses."

That should be everyone's goal in this debate. If there is real evidence that some students are having a hard time, then we should act, but we shouldn't be motivated by pop politics.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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