Students’ Sexuality is Their Own Business

According to various reports, UCLA may ask incoming students about their sexual orientation. Such a development would make it the second school in the nation to do so–Elmhurst College in Illinois became the first last fall. The disclosure would be voluntary, and would have no bearing on admissions. As Matt Comer, a spokesperson for the LGBT organization Campus Pride told Fox News, “It’s much like asking race or gender.”

And so it is, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. The quest by UCLA to find out even more about its incoming students is just the latest example of a steadily growing erosion of personal privacy, dignity and autonomy, as the student life bureaucracy grows and grows in numbers, power, influence, and control. It has been widely noted that there are more administrators now on college campuses than professors; these administrators often need to justify their own existence, and one way of doing that is to find new and more creative ways to interfere with the lives of the students. (Besides, what better way for an assistant dean of student life, inclusion, and diversity to get assigned a deputy assistant dean of student life, inclusion, and diversity than to add something for these deans to do?)

It would be a good bet that within five years some colleges will insist that students come in for medical tests for STDs. Of course, they’ll say, it’s confidential, and in any event it’s a public health initiative! But at least they could try to justify asking about STDs on grounds of protection of the health of other students. What is the justification for asking about sexual orientation? After all, if a student is gay, and wants to meet other gay people, or find support in the community, he or she is free to do so. Students, unhindered by excessive adult intervention, have always gravitated toward the people whom they find attractive by whatever metric attractiveness is measured, including, of course, intellectual as well as physical interests. Why does the university need to get involved?

I recall about six years ago some politically correct member of the board of directors of an organization to which I belonged suggested that the group add “handicapped” as a diversity qualification for Board membership – that just as we want “diversity” in terms of race, so do we also want diversity in terms of those who are “challenged” by other life issues. I asked whether she meant “physical” handicap or “mental” handicap. She was stumped, because she knew my next question would be whether we should comb the mental hospitals for schizophrenics.

But the board members then went on to introduce a motion to add “sexual orientation” to the list of “underrepresented” minorities we would want on our board. I asked whether the board really wanted to insist that potential members disclose sexual identity. There were some nervous titters. And, I pointed out, we would need to know how many gay members we already have on the board, before we could establish quotas and know when we’ve reached them. She responded that potential members would not be required, only invited, to disclose sexual orientation. I then went further: And how many same-sex encounters would qualify a person as gay? What percentage? And would a mere same-sex kiss qualify, or….? The discussion went downhill from there. I won that round, but I considered my victory temporary. The urge to “diversify” along lines that typically exclude diversity of opinions and of skills is very strong these days. Even organizations that purport to protect the right to privacy are not against making invasive inquiries.

This is a downhill slope, and the slide has been initiated by people who should know better. There is absolutely no reason why an applicant to college should be asked about sexual identity, an area of life that has zero to do with his or her qualifications for undertaking higher academic studies. We live under a legal system that enshrines equality under the law, or what the Bible would describe as the Golden Rule: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

College administrators seem stubbornly unable to comprehend true equality. With regard to such administrators, another Biblical injunction comes to mind: Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.

Harvey A. Silverglate is a Boston trial lawyer, the co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses, and Co-Founder and current Chairman of FIRE.


  • Harvey Silverglate

    Harvey Silverglate, a Boston criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer and writer, is the co-founder of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education ( He co-authored The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses.

3 thoughts on “Students’ Sexuality is Their Own Business

  1. It’s strange to see these University of California bureaucrats, who probably consider themselves left/liberal, doing things that remind one of Nazi “racial science”–in this case, an excessive desire to put people into categories. Besides being invasive, this kind of questioning sends a bad message to students: your race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation are more important than your individual character, intellect, and effort. Some of these administrators are no doubt thrilled about this and think they’re doing something wonderful (“now we can show how diverse we are”), but many people will see this misguided action for what it is.

  2. Still, let them go down that slippery slope: Some colleges may well specialize in attracting homosexuals, others in attracting the environmentally concerned, and the merely intelligent plebs can go to yet other colleges. Those Asian Americans, for whom there is only room in less than elite universities, will make those universities elite. Word will get out. The process will not be pretty, but Charlie Darwin will win, yet again.

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