October 31, 2003

Military Recruitment Creates Thorny Issues

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Across the country, faculty and students at schools such as the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Yale Law School have filed lawsuits against the Department of Defense for its policy regarding military recruitment at their respective institutions.

Discriminatory Policy?

Many people know about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harass” policy regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals in the military. Some find this to be at odds with most universities’ nondiscrimination policies. However, the military is permitted to recruit on campuses, primarily for positions in its numerous Judge Advocate General’s offices.

The Solomon Amendment, a piece of legislation that was introduced by the military, states that law schools which ban recruiting by the military will lose their federal funding. The amendment has been reinterpreted in recent years to mean that if such recruiting is barred, the entire parent institution of the law school will lose its federal funding as well, making it virtually impossible for law schools to afford to prohibit military recruiting.

Other lawsuits include one filed by the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights representing at least five law schools and hundreds of law professors from around the nation.

But at Cornell Law School, no such suit has been filed.

“Various branches of the military do visit the law school,” said Karen Comstock, associate dean for career services at the law school.

Cornell Law School has anywhere from 285 to 325 private and public organizations recruiting its students every year, including government and military institutions.

“The military is very aggressive these days about satisfying themselves that schools are complying with the Solomon Amendment,” Comstock stated.

Describing the situation as a “very complex issue,” Comstock also expressed the law school’s dissatisfaction with the Solomon Amendment.

“The Law School doesn’t like this either. This is something that’s happening on a federal level, and there’s national litigation going on.”

“What we do to ameliorate that particular situation,” she explained, “is [to distribute] a notice to the entire [Cornell Law School] community every time the military visits or any time they list a job opening with us. We reiterate our policy of nondiscrimination [and state] that the military does discriminate [on the basis of sexual orientation]; it’s against [our] policy, but because of the potential loss of funds under the Solomon Amendment, we have to comply.”

Such notices are required by the American Association of Law Schools, an organization that accredits law schools across the country. Furthermore, the AALS suggests several “amelioration” steps that law schools can take to counter the negative effects that military recruiting may have on the LGBT community.

Matt Faiella law ’05, president of Cornell’s Lambda Law Students Association, the organization for LGBT law students, is disappointed that the law school has not implemented more of the amelioration steps suggested by the AALS.

“With the exception of a few very aware, kind faculty members who have talked to us about this, there has been no administrative reaction,” Faiella said, adding, “We don’t have a very politically active faculty.”

Judy Amorosa law ’05, social chair for Lambda, added that her impression is that the law school administration is “apathetic” about the issue.

Faiella concurred.

“I think [the administration sends] mixed messages by failing to sign onto this lawsuit or address the issue of military recruiting in any capacity, and to me it feels like acceptance [of the Solomon Amendment] as opposed to them being forced to [comply with it].”

In reaction to the military’s recruitment on campus, Lambda has been asking students and faculty members to sign a petition urging President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 and Cornell Law School interim dean John Siliciano to join the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights lawsuit. So far, 143 law students and faculty members have signed the petition. The school has approximately 600 students and 50 faculty members in total.

Amorosa acknowledged the risks associated with filing a lawsuit against the Department of Defense.

“It’s a very difficult decision, obviously — this is not something that everyone is jumping up to do,” she said.

Members of Lambda have also spoken with military recruiters regarding their “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and they intend to do more in the future.

“We are planning on contacting [Cornell Law School] faculty members individually, and we are also going to be meeting with the administration. We are going to approach the University and we’re trying to get undergrads involved,” Faiella said.

Amorosa asserted that Lambda still needs to make further headway on this issue and that the organization should make it clear to the administration that they believe more should be done in response to the Solomon Amendment.

Comstock maintained that Cornell Law’s administration has “a very good relationship with our students,” adding that administrators are always open to suggestions from students.

Faiella agreed that relations between administrators and students are good, but explained, “The administration I would say is supportive of all student groups equally — but with regard to the military recruiting I don’t think they’re doing everything they can do.”

With this in mind, Lambda is hopeful that they will be able to foster more dialogue with the administration regarding the Solomon Amendment and a possible lawsuit against the Department of Defense similar to the ones that have already been filed.

As a result of The Sun’s investigation into this issue, Comstock and Faiella arranged a meeting in which they decided that the career office and Lambda will present an information program on the Solomon Amendment and how it relates to on-campus recruiting.

“Lambda has done a wonderful job this year in education and advocacy on this topic, and both [Faiella] and I agree that it is time once again for a school-sponsored educational program on this issue,” Comstock said.

Archived article by Andrew Beckwith