Amid Protests, Defense Department Steps Up Recruitment at Top Law Schools
[The Chronicle of Higher Education, 18 October 2002]
Harvard & Yale vs. The Pentagon. Guess who wins
By RICHARD MORGAN
Todd is an all-American guy. He has played on football and basketball teams, joined a fraternity, and gone from a small town in the Midwest to Harvard Law School. He describes himself as "extremely patriotic."
"I think that there's such honor in wearing a uniform," he says. "Serving in the armed forces is a sign of character."
That admiration has drawn him to the U.S. military's Judge Advocate General Corps, whose members serve as military lawyers. But there's an obstacle on his path to military valor: Todd is gay.
"I suppressed it at home, in my fraternity, and now I'm finally OK with it," says Todd, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he still wants to join the JAG Corps. "And just when that happens, the military says that I have to keep it to myself, or to believe that it's wrong." His frustration isn't easily contained: "I want to say, 'Damn the military.' I want to be patriotic and serve my country, and I feel resentment that they won't let me do that."
For years, to try to serve the interests of students like Todd, many law schools have adopted policies that restrict the presence of Pentagon recruiters on their campuses, in an effort to persuade the military to allow openly gay people in its ranks. But in recent months, the Department of Defense has pushed to give its recruiters more access to law schools, including those at Georgetown, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale Universities, and the University of Southern California. The pressure, which many college presidents and law-school deans attribute largely to the growing threat of war, has sparked protests at Georgetown, Harvard, and Yale.
Facing Loss of Funds
Armed with a 1996 law, the Solomon Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, the military has presented law schools with a choice: Administrators can either stand by their policies denying recruitment opportunities to employers that, like the military, discriminate against gay people, or lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal research funds. Many college officials, even if their institutions have been deemed in compliance with the law, remain nervous because colleges are under review every six months.
What's more, because of a change in the amendment made in 2000, a finding that any part of a university is not in compliance jeopardizes the federal funds given to their entire institution by the Departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and Transportation, as well as by "related agencies," like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. That totals some $328-million at Harvard, $350-million at Yale, and as much as $500-million at USC. Almost all of the funds go to scientific research into diseases like AIDS, cancer, and juvenile diabetes. (A 1999 tweak in the law exempts federal student aid from the amendment.)
The Pentagon ratcheted up the pressure in its most recent round of reviews, when it gave institutions deadlines for changing their policies. Some college presidents and law-school deans have gone along, making an exception from their anti-bias policies by giving the JAG Corps and other military recruiters the same opportunities to recruit law students that nondiscriminating employers receive. But protests from students and faculty members have stirred talk of legal challenges.
"Now more than ever, the military should welcome all who are willing to defend their country," says Carl C. Monk, executive director of the American Association of Law Schools, who compares the military's ban on gay people to racial-segregation laws. "Whatever one might argue for combat forces," he adds, "certainly for the JAG Corps one's sexual orientation and action would seem irrelevant."
No Choice, by Law
The military has no choice but to carry out the law, says William J. Carr, principal director of military-personnel policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. By law, the military refuses candidates on the basis of age, physical fitness, disability, and homosexual conduct.
"Often you see that the Pentagon policy discriminates," Mr. Carr says. But because Congress passed a law imposing this policy on the Defense Department, "it's not just Pentagon policy. And it's not about discrimination. It's about federal requirements."
The Defense Department, he says, is in discussions regarding the Solomon Amendment with some 30 law schools. Although he says that the newly increased pressure on colleges is not directly related to the war on terrorism or the threat of war with Iraq, he acknowledges that "circumstances have shifted slightly" in the past year, in the wake of a sizable turnover in the ranks of Pentagon officials who review colleges' compliance with the law.
Law schools with antidiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation tell military recruiters, "As long as you comply [with the Solomon Amendment], you can't do anything on our campus," Mr. Carr says. "But how could we do anything but obey federal law?"
The military could allow gay people to serve openly, says Adam A. Sofen, a gay student at Yale Law School, who comes from a military family. The "gratuitous strong-arm tactics" of the Defense Department in its demands have left him unwilling even to consider trying to join the JAG Corps, he says.
"They hold a bludgeon to our heads," says Mr. Sofen, whose grandfather was in the Navy for 30 years and whose brother is at the U.S. Naval Academy. "It's painted as a choice, but it's not a choice at all. I don't think they're really risking cancer research, because they know that we would never do that."
Such an approach could not have come at a worse time, he argues. "There's a huge rift between the elite schools and the military, but after September 11 that was beginning to change. Students were lining up for the CIA, not Goldman Sachs."
The military, he says, "should encourage and foster that, rather than picking at the scab like this to remind us why we distanced ourselves in the first place."
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