BY MIKE WISER
Responding to a threat by the federal government to withhold $328 million in funds from Harvard University, Dean Robert Clark decided in late August to allow military recruiters to participate in the on campus recruiting process. Clark’s decision reversed a policy that had prevented JAG recruiters from using the Office of Career Services (OCS), because the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits individuals who are openly gay from joining the military, prevented the military from signing the Law School’s non-discrimination pledge.
Dean Clark’s reversal came after a letter from the Air Force in late May said that the Air Force believed the Law School was violating the provisions of the 1996 Solomon Amendment by not allowing military recruiters to participate in on campus interviewing. Under the provisions of the Amendment, all federal funding to a university could be withheld unless “the degree of access by military recruiters is at least equal in quality and scope to that afforded to other employers.” For Harvard University, almost 16 percent of its annual operating budget could be withheld.
While allowing the military to visit the school to recruit at the invitation of the student HLS Veterans Association (HLSVA) had satisfied military recruiters in the past, an Air Force inquiry that began in December of 2001 determined that the Law School was not in compliance with the Solomon Amendment.
With hundreds of millions of dollars in the balance, Clark decided to allow recruiters to use OCS resources and to recruit through its interview process.
“I think the difference is more symbolic than anything else, because the reality was they were recruiting here and recruiting effectively on campus for the last several years,” Assistant Dean for Career Services Mark Weber told the RECORD.
Jason Watkins, president of the HLSVA, also agreed that the change probably would not make much difference for military recruiters. Watkins, who said he was “a results oriented person,” told the RECORD, “I’m not sure how much there is to be gained from official or publicized changes in policy.”
A Difficult Decision
Whether or not the change will make it easier for military recruiters, Weber said that the school’s decision came only after months of agonizing about how to respond. During that process administrators consulted members of Lambda (the gay and lesbian student group) as well as students on the placement committee for input. In the end, the administration finally decided that they would not win in a battle with the Air Force.
“I think we made a judgment that it would not be successful, given the current climate of support for the military. Also we had a sense that maybe that wasn’t the important thing to do. The more important goal is to try and bring about real change,” Clark said.
In an e-mail to students on August 26, Clark explained that, “Our decision to permit military recruiters access to the facilities and services of OCS does not reduce the Law School’s commitment to the goal of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
“Dean Clark really had his back against the wall,” 2L Adam Teicholz, president of Lambda, told the RECORD. Teicholz said that Clark’s letter to the community showed that the school does not accept the military’s recruiting policy.
“The situation must be especially galling to [the] administration regardless of their moral stance, because the military is coming in and using money to force the school to change its rules, violating their prerogative to set HLS’s internal policies,” he said, “Their job now is to see how we can put those values back as part of school policy.”
Weber said the challenge now is to balance disapproval of the military policy against the danger that they will be perceived as discouraging students from joining the military.
“We all want the best and the brightest serving in the military,” Weber said. “And I can’t think of a better place to recruit them than at Harvard. I think that a good way to implement change is by getting people in the military who have different points of view who can effectuate change from the inside.”
Lambda’s Teicholz agreed with Weber, saying that they encouraged students interested in joining the JAG corps to go through the alternative interview process. “This is not about JAG; it’s about the Bush administration’s wielding its control of students’ educational opportunities to force Harvard to compromise its principles,” he said.
During an e-mail interview, Teicholz added, “Go enlist! Just do it in a way that doesn’t tell the Department of Defense that they can push us around to enforce their homophobia.”
Off campus, opinion makers have both praised and blasted the decision. “A public untutored in the nuances of the university’s thinking might get the impression that while Harvard’s elite graduates should make policy for the military, they just shouldn’t serve in it,” one Memphis paper wrote.
On campus, it is not yet clear how supporters and opponents of the military’s policy will react to the decision. Some students (including a columnist in today’s RECORD) have called for gay and lesbian students to try to book all JAG interview slots, while others have argued that doing so would only hurt students who are legitimately interested in joining the military. Teicholz said that Lambda had not yet decided how it would react.