Saturday, December 17, 2005

On the U of M and the Solomon Amendment

Today's Star Tribune has a commentary written by three faculty members of the University of Minnesota. Their purpose: taking Katherine Kersten to task over her column criticizing the Law School's suit challenging the Solomon Amendment, which makes equal campus access to military recuiters a condition for receiving grants from the federal government. Let's start with this:
First, let's make clear what she does not: the law school does not bar military recruiters. They get the same access every employer gets.
While technically true, the fact is they do indeed ban military recruiters because of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy dictated to the military by Congress. They use their anti-discrimination policy to justify it, but saying they do not ban recruiters is ludicrous on its face.

The law school follows the non-discrimination principles laid out by Minnesota's Human Rights Act and by the University Board of Regents' policy on equal employment opportunity. Accordingly, recruiters using the law school's facilities have long been required to pledge that they do not discriminate against our students on the basis of several criteria, including race, sex, religion, and sexual orientation.

These forms of discrimination are morally wrong, contrary to the values of the legal profession, and harmful to our students. For example, we would bar employers who refuse to hire black law students, women, or Catholics.

Similarly, we bar employers who discriminate against gay law students. However, under a federal law known as the Solomon Amendment, the whole university would lose all federal funding if the law school barred recruiters from the military, which in effect excludes gay Americans from service under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

In 2004 alone, this would have jeopardized $351 million in federal grants to other parts of the university for important medical and scientific research. The law school, which is not dependent on federal funds for its operations, has neither the power nor the right to impose this huge penalty on the rest of the university. It's not that the law school's principles are for sale, as Kersten's column suggests, it's that our principles can't be enforced at others' expense.

This gets to the nub of things. If the rest of the university allows recruiters except for the law school (apparently in violation of University policy), isn't the principled course of action for the university to ban all recruiters from campus and not take the money? Federal grant money is not an entitlement, after all, and Congress is not required to make grants to the University if it doesn't want to. Congress also has a pretty free reign to attach conditions to that money. Congress also imposed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on the military. (I'm not claiming the military is chomping at the bit to admit gays, but the policy came from Congress.) Now since other parts of the campus do allow recuiters (and take the money), is it possible that the Law School has interpreted the policy incorrectly, or are their academic colleagues just sellouts to the Man? It seems fairly simple to me - if you don't want recruiters on campus, don't take the government money.

They also make the interesting claim that their First Amendment rights are being violated. How? If they object to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" they are "welcome to speak up" in the same way they advise students who disagree with the law school's discriminatory policy against the military. The faculty can protest, they can set an information booth next to recuiter to explain their point of view, etc. . I guess it's less work to ban the dissenting viewpoint instead of engaging it. As far as the possibility of money being denied to other schools on campus, no one said that First Amendment rights are consequence-free.

I also find it interesting how little they trust their own students. The faculty seems to think the mere presence of recuiters at the law school will turn their students into raging homophobes. On the contrary, their students are adults in their own right and are quite capable evaluating the pros and cons of military service for themselves without faculty indoctrination or interference. If these faculty really believed in the First Amendment, they wouldn't be trying to "protect" their students this way in the first place.

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