March 1, 2005

Solomon Amendment Panel Stirs Emotions

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Tensions ran high yesterday at a Cornell Law School forum that was held to address the administration’s stance on the issue of the Solomon Amendment. The Solomon Amendment is a piece of legislation that states that law schools must allow military personnel to have access to their facilities in order to recruit students for positions within the armed forces.

Many law schools and organizations have argued that this policy, which threatens to withdraw all federal funding from the law school’s parent university should the law school not comply, is unfair and discriminatory, since the military does not hire openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) individuals as a result of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The forum was organized by Lambda Law Students Association, Cornell Law’s LGBT student organization, along with the Cornell chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a progressive organization that works to promote policy changes. It was held in light of several recent court decisions that have ruled the Solomon Amendment unconstitutional. The Department of Defense is planning to appeal at least one of these decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court, and many members of NLG and Lambda have been advocating for the law school to be named as a plaintiff in one of the pending cases.

Many law students and professors, as well as other members of the Cornell community, attended the event. Featured speakers included Barbara Krause J.D. ’86, senior advisor to President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77, Stewart Schwab, the Allan J. Tessler Dean of the law school, Karen Comstock, assistant dean for public service at the law school, Toby Heytens, visiting professor at the law school, and Jessica Polansky law ’05.

Students who attended the event seemed frustrated with what they perceived as inaction on the part of the administration regarding the Solomon Amendment.

“I just want to impress on the representatives of our administration how horribly disappointed we are as students at the lack of courage that the administration has shown on this issue,” said Zorka Milin law ’05, addressing the panelists during the question and answer session. “I speak not just as a student but also as a soon-to-be alum. I think that we would be very unwilling to consider giving back to the law school as long as the administration is unwilling to stand up for our values.”

Krause brought a message from Lehman, who was unable to attend the forum.

In his message, Lehman said, “The military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue, don’t harass’ policy is, as we all recognize, fundamentally at odds with our policies against discrimination in employment. We at Cornell are firmly committed to our anti-discrimination policies.”

Lehman’s message also stated that the University is considering the possibility of filing an amicus curiae brief to supplement one of the cases against the Department of Defense, should it be brought to the Supreme Court. Such a brief would not name Cornell as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, but would explain how the Solomon Amendment affects the University.

Krause announced that the University is hoping to hold a symposium this fall to address the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and said that President Lehman has written to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld requesting that he send a representative to the symposium to describe the military’s point of view on the issue.

Dean Schwab described “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a “temporary resting point,” and predicted that it would eventually be abolished.

Polansky, former president of NLG at Cornell Law, explained her position on the Solomon Amendment.

“This discrimination is happening at a university, in an organization that was founded to educate, to enlighten, to promote diversity,” she said.

She also discussed why, in her opinion, the Solomon Amendment should be eliminated. “It’s important to recognize that the Solomon Amendment on its own is really problematic. Even if ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ still exists, if we can get rid of the Solomon Amendment, then that means that the University doesn’t have to continually affirm the fact that discrimination is O.K.”

Other students in the audience asked Dean Schwab to encourage law school faculty members to sign a statement of support, affirming that professors at Cornell Law consider the Solomon Amendment unjust. Despite requests by students, Dean Schwab did not promise to add the topic to a faculty meeting agenda.

Jocelyn Getgen law ’07, who received a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell in 2000, expressed her dissatisfaction with the outcome of the forum.

“I’m really disappointed right now in Cornell University’s stance and in the law school in particular. We saw none of Cornell’s [“Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds”] policy today,” she said. “As a graduate, I’m always proud to hear Cornell’s name. I was always proud to be part of this school. And today I was completely embarrassed to be a member of this community. … Maybe [the University doesn’t] have [its] eyes closed, but [it] definitely [has its] mouth closed on this issue.”

Archived article by ANDREW BECKWITH
Sun Senior Writer