Students, faculty, administrators rally against ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

BY JONAS BLANK

Dean Clark speaks on the steps of Langdell Hall.
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The Law School’s reaction to the JAG controversy hit a fever pitch Monday, with hundreds of students, faculty and administrators gathering in front of Langdell Hall to voice their opposition to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and what they characterized as the Bush administration’s heavy-handed tactics that forced HLS to allow JAG recruiting in its on-campus interviewing.

Professor Heather Gerken may have summed the event up best, saying, “To quote James Carville, ‘we’re right, and they’re wrong.’”

That theme repeated itself throughout the hour-long rally, which featured speeches by Dean Robert Clark, Professors Alan Dershowitz, Heather Gerken and Janet Halley, three outside experts and 3L Scott Smith, the co-President of the Harvard Law School Veterans Association. Students in the audience wore purple ribbons intertwined with the stars and stripes, while a group of students bracketing the podium held signs bearing slogans like “Dick Cheney: Let your daughter serve!”

The event was the culmination of well over a month of planning by HLS Lambda, which raised awareness in the week leading up to the campaign by strewing classrooms with educational flyers and pink-painted army men. The group also recruited such national luminaries as Professor Aaron Belkin, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California Santa Barbara, and Dr. Paul R. Camacho, who heads the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts Boston, to educate students at the rally.

But the most controversial moments came during the speeches of Dershowitz and Halley, who showed that not all HLS faculty agree with the administration’s decision not to fight the Air Force’s reinterpretation of the 1996 Solomon Amendment, which allows the government to pull federal funding from universities that do not allow military recruiting on campus. HLS had already allowed military recruiting via an arrangement with the HLS Veterans’ Association, but prohibited JAG recruiters from using the on-campus interviewing process because “don’t ask, don’t tell” violated HLS’ non-discrimination policy.

“This is simple extortion. There’s no other way to describe it,” Dershowitz said. “I think we ought to fight it in the courts. I think we ought to litigate this issue.” The comments drew huge applause, shortly after which Dershowitz added, “Would it be worse to lose than to not fight this fight? We will win in the court of public opinion.”

Halley blasted University President Lawrence Summers, who she said wanted HLS to cave to the government’s demands. “We could not find the will anywhere to resist Summers,” she said. “If we had had the will, we could have forced him to involve himself.” If HLS failed to comply with the government’s demands, Harvard University could have lost up to $328 million in federal funds.

Halley also characterized “don’t ask, don’t tell” as not only an anti-gay policy, but an anti-sex policy that encourages the inhibition of sexual behaviors and attitudes. She also made some colorful assertions about HLS students’ own sexual proclivities.

“If I came to Harvard Law School and I had to enforce ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ I would have to discriminate against almost everybody,” she said. “Your homoeroticism is built in, and believe me, I have seen it.”

Clark, who interrupted a fundraising jaunt to be able to attend and speak at the rally, said he continues to believe the litigation route would be a mistake. “The end result of such litigation would be to get a declaration that our pre-existing policy was okay,” Clark told The RECORD. “That might make us feel virtuous, but not accomplish the actual end in view, which is ending the horrible ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.” Clark added that there would be significant logistical obstacles to such litigation. Even if the HLS faculty were to move forward on a resolution to act, such action would still likely require approval of both the University and its general counsel. Though Dershowitz and a group of students and other individuals could conceivably move forward on their own, Clark said, “I think there would be major standing problems.”

Instead, Clark said he hopes to consult with his fellow faculty members about what to do next. That may eventually include coordinated public relations efforts by a number of law schools, including Yale, which also recently allowed JAG back on campus. In the meantime, Clark said, the Law School should devote more of its intellectual energy to challenging “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“The Law School should do what it’s best at — fostering the exchange of research and ideas. We can put on some pretty amazing workshops and conduct some pretty impressive panels. Yesterday was the beginning of that,” he said.

Clark also objected to Halley’s remarks about Summers. “I think that’s a very misleading characterization,” he said. “What’s the point of all that? Finding someone to blame? It doesn’t do anything constructive.” He added that when the JAG decision was made back in July, no professors had objected.

Students attending the rally said they felt HLS should fight. “I tend to agree with Dershowitz,” said 1L Jason Bates. “Our chances of success shouldn’t deter us.” Bates also praised the diversity of the group of speakers.

Three-L Janson Wu, who said he signed up for a Navy JAG interview slot as part of the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” protest, said he was pleasantly surprised by the comments of Dershowitz and Halley. “If this were an issue of race or gender, we would have taken this to court,” he said. Wu, like many of the speakers, also reiterated his respect for those who serve in the Armed Forces, though he strongly opposes the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Two-L Adam Teicholz, the president of Lambda, said he was extremely pleased with the event and the speeches. He said that Lambda would support any efforts by Dershowitz or others to look into filing a lawsuit against the government, and characterized Dershowitz’s speech as a strong moral statement.

“Lambda would be behind any sort of legal action,” Teicholz said. “The statement it would make would be unequivocal.”

Jeffrey Cleghorn, a gay military veteran and director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, had an unequivocal statement of his own to make when he spoke at the rally. “’Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is bad for the United States military and bad for America,” he said. “If the military can discriminate against those of us who happen to be gay or lesbian, the principles it claims to be defending are not being sufficiently valued.”

In her speech, Gerken added that forcing HLS to allow JAG recruiting on campus smacked of the Bush administration’s pandering to right-wing interests and improperly exploiting the events of September 11 for political gain.

[Photos by Erin Berstein/RECORD]

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