Thursday, August 22, 2019


Universities and federal government at odds over military recruiting

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Jania Sandoval(R)speaks with a U.S. Army recruiter at Wright College in Chicago in October 2005. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The U.S. Supreme Court will arguments on whether the government can withhold federal funds from colleges that bar military recruiters on campus. An association of law schools, including the University of Minnesota, is challenging the law on grounds that the military's, 'don't ask-don't tell' policy discriminates against gays. The law schools say forcing them to accept military recruiting conflicts with their First Amendment message against discrimination. The military argues it is hypocritical for schools to bar recruiting and expect federal funding particularly when the nation is at war.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Congress clamped down on schools that denied military recruiters on campus last year. It tightened restrictions under the so-called Solomon Amendment, which requires schools that receive federal funding to give recruiters the same access to their career placement offices as other employers.

Schools that refused could lose funding from the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, National Nuclear Security Administration, and the CIA. Even if an individual school, such as a law school, denied recruiters access, the entire university would be subject to a loss of funding.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., and a former Marine, was an early supporter of the Soloman Amendment. He was incensed that schools receiving federal funds were denying the military access to campus.

"We have troops engaged in combat and we have schools who are taking federal money, but denying our military the ability to come on campus and recruit; it's just outrageous," says Kline.

While the law schools oppose the Solomon Amendment, they are main disagreement is with the government's policy that bans gays from the military. That policy says a service-member must leave the military if he or she "engaged in...a homosexual act", "stated that he or she is a homosexual" or "married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex."

University of Minnesota Law Professor Beverly Balos says while the U of M Law school has allowed the military access, the school opposes the military's practice. The school has joined a consortium of law schools around the country challenging the Solomon Amendment in court.

"By forcing us to have military recruiters on campus, they are forcing us to engage in a kind of speech and a kind of association that we disagree with," Balos says.

The schools argue the government is interfering with their right to free speech. It is unrealistic for them, they say, to forgo federal funding. They say posting recruiting signs, handing out literature and arranging interviews, give the impression the law schools support discrimination against gays.

Professor Balos emphasizes that the law schools are not anti-military, but anti-discrimination.

"It's not really intended to be a statement about the value of the military in a broader sense. But it is intended to be a statement that says, 'We're a law school community.' We don't support discriminating against part of our community and we shouldn't be forced to discriminate against part of our community," she says.

Ironically, the law schools support their argument in part based on a ruling that allowed the Boy Scouts to prohibit hiring an openly gay scoutmaster. The supreme court said hiring the gay scoutmaster would interfere with the Boy Scout's message opposing homosexuality.

Military recruiters also argue the law schools are violating their right to free speech. They say they have the right to speak directly to students on law school campuses. The students can always say no.

So what percentage of new recruits comes from college campuses? The Pentagon said it did not have that information. Individual branches of the service said either they did not have that information or did not return calls from Minnesota Public Radio.

Nevertheless, Congressman Kline says campus recruiting is crucial to maintaining an all-volunteer army. He says the military can discriminate because it works under different rules than society.

"You can, for example, in the military deny their service because they're too tall, or too short, or too fat, or because they have flat feet. I guess I could go on with a long list but the point is that the military is a special institution," he says.

Out of the various federal funding sources, the Department of Defense, is one of the biggest at many universities. At the U of M, however, it's important but not critical, according to Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy.

"Would the University close if we didn't have DOD funding? The answer's no," he says.

Mulcahy says the university recieves about $13 million dollars from the defense department; a relatively small portion of the school's overall budget. He says getting that money is extremely competitive and increasingly important as funding for research and development drops.

"What we do at universities with federal support represents more and more fundamental research and support of the nation's competitive edge in the world of science and technology. And therefore, it's vital, not just for universities that we maintain federal funding, it's vital for the nation," Mulcahy says.

William Mitchell Law School has taken a stand against allowing military recruiters on its campus but it receives no federal funding.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the case Dec. 6.

While the court bans outside cameras and tape recorders from the courtroom, it does record the hearings on its own. Typically, it releases those recordings at the end of the term. As a sign that the court considers this case high profile, it will release its recording immediately after the hearing.