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Making the gay-friendly grade 

Ahhh, those college rankings. How they can sometimes, well ... rankle.

A recent list of the top "gay-friendly" business schools is no exception. In its second survey of 21 leading business schools, Aplomb Consulting, a national gay market-research firm (www.aplomb.com), gave UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School an "F."

When UNC's failing grade was reported in the national gay news magazine The Advocate, the story was picked up by The Daily Tar Heel. In an editorial, the campus paper warned Kenan-Flagler officials not to fall behind other business schools whose gay-friendly grades have markedly improved since Aplomb's first survey in 1995.

You'd expect administrators to be upset by UNC's bottom-rung ranking. But gay students at Kenan-Flagler also see the marks as undeserved.

"From my point of view, the researchers weren't using the greatest measures," says Joey Vail, co-chair of the business school's Gay-Lesbian/Straight Alliance. "They were looking at things like whether we had a gay alumni association, which is an important resource, but doesn't really reflect the overall culture or values of the school."

Vail says he was out during his admissions interview at Kenan-Flagler and "the staff was very receptive." The Gay/Straight Alliance was formed after Aplomb did its survey, he adds, too late to improve the school's gay-friendly grade.

Aplomb President Jason Lorber--who began the survey as a class project while he was a business student at Stanford--says the list is determined by 10 specific criteria. The first is whether a school has a non-discrimination policy that covers sexual orientation (all 21 do). Other measures include the existence of gay business school student and alumni organizations, the provision of domestic partner health benefits (the percentage of schools that offer them has risen from 32 percent to 86 percent since the first survey), and the presence of openly gay professors on campus.

The story in The Advocate named only a few of the schools on Aplomb's list: At the top were Harvard, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania, with "A"s (Yale got an "A-minus"). Nearer the bottom were Cornell and Carnegie Mellon with "D"s.

Duke University's Fuqua School of Business--whose grade rose from a "D" to a "C" in the latest survey--wasn't mentioned in the story. But Louann Pope, a Fuqua student and chair of Duke's Gay-Lesbian/Straight Alliance, says several policies enacted since 1995 likely helped boost her school's ranking. Among them are domestic partnership benefits and the fact that Duke Chapel will now host same-sex marriage ceremonies--though to date, she says none have been performed there. Still, Pope, who was interviewed for Aplomb's study, questions whether the rankings are fair. "It's difficult to compete with schools like Harvard and Stanford that have an active [gay] alumni association," she says. "Fuqua is not a very old business school. And then there's the urban thing, which is also very important. For a school like Stanford, which is in the Bay Area, it's not surprising that they have a high ranking."

Despite their criticisms, gay students at both Duke and UNC agree the gay-friendly rankings are important--if only to keep the attention of administrators focused on making their campuses welcoming to all students. "It does give us something to reach for," says Vail, one of three UNC students who'll be attending a national conference of gay, lesbian and transgendered MBAs in April.

Lorber has his own measure of how influential the survey--or at least, the issues it raises--has been. He points out that Purdue University's business school, which ranked last in Aplomb's 1995 survey, didn't make the latest list. The reason? It's no longer in the top 21.

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