Students protest recruitment law

By Megan Fraser

Armed with posters, buttons and microphones, students rallied last Wednesday in what looked like a scene out of a Vietnam War protest movie. The roughly 30 students gathered outside Snell Library to fight discrimination on Northeastern’s campus, which they say most students don’t even know about.

In a Supreme Court decision expected to be handed down within the next few months, the Northeastern School of Law may be asked to allow military recruiters access to their facilities in accordance with the Solomon Amendment, which requires college or university law schools to allow access to recruiters or lose federal funds.

The case is called FAIR v. Rumsfeld, and was brought by the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR) along with the Society for American Law Teachers (SALT). The Northeastern School of Law is one of several plaintiffs directly named in the case, along with the University of Pennsylvania, Boston College and Yale University.

The group of schools, along with FAIR and SALT, argue the Solomon Amendment is unconstitutional because government funding, potentially essential in scientific research, is being withheld unless schools give up the right to choose the messages they express or associate with, which is inconsistent with the First Amendment.

Military recruitment on college campuses is not unusual, but students at the protest said they believe it sends a discriminatory message to the gay and lesbian community at Northeastern.

“It’s not just that schools have to allow military recruiters onto our campus, but the military still advocates ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,'” said Amber Lea Kincaid, treasurer of the Northeastern University Allied Student Coalition (NUASC). “It’s something that’s really gone under the radar.”

The government’s argument against the law schools’ case is that students at all universities should know about opportunities in the military.

“The issue here is equal access, because those students who are interested in a military career should be allowed the same access to a military recruiter as those who are interested in a private-sector career,” said Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, who works in the U.S. Department of Defense.

But because of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, protesters argue recruitment on campus is discriminatory.

According to studies done by the Call of Duty Tour, a group of gay former service members visiting colleges to discuss “don’t ask, don’t tell,” there are at least 65,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans currently in the U.S. military. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” prohibits them from serving if their homosexuality is revealed, and more than 10,000 people have been discharged under the policy in the last 10 years, the studies report.

NUASC worked with NUBiLAGA and the law school’s Queer Caucus (a gay rights advocacy group) to organize the protest, and representatives from each group said they are waiting for a Supreme Court decision before they make further plans, noting Northeastern has already done much for the cause.

“Northeastern is out there on the forefront,” said Brady Lay, a second-year law student. “We’ve been working on this for a long time and it’s really great that the university has supported us.”

Although only the law school is directly involved with the case, the issue could affect the entire university. If the decision comes down in favor of allowing military recruiters on campus, students and administration will be faced with a difficult decision.

The current antidiscrimination policy states that the career services facilities and resources at the School of Law are only available to employers who do not discriminate in the selection of employees based on a number of things, including sexual orientation. Promoting “don’t ask, don’t tell” is in violation of the policy, but denying access to recruiters would lead to the withdrawal of federal funds to the entire university.

“Funds are being held hostage, in part, by ideological positions taken by the administration,” said Dan Danielsen, an associate professor in the School of Law. “Whether it’s appropriate or consistent with academic freedom to have money for science contingent on [military recruiting] seems to be enormously dangerous, not just for Northeastern, but for all universities.”

A ruling against the university will leave officials looking for options. Flynn said writing letters to Congress would be a viable option if the ruling does not fall in favor of the school.

“The issue of whether or not gay people can serve in the military is an important issue for undergraduates, and I think it’s important for students, regardless of whether they’re at the law school or not, to let Congress know that,” she said.

Until a court decision merits further action, protesters said making students aware of the issue is their primary concern.

“Our goal is to raise awareness to support our administration and say, ‘Continue to fight this,'” said Alysia Melnick, a first-year law student.

Taylor Flynn, an associate professor in the School of Law, said she believes the protest was the first step in gaining undergraduate support.

“I think that oftentimes issues don’t really get nationwide coverage until they get to the Supreme Court,” Flynn said. “But I think getting in touch with students who are involved in the Queer Caucus is probably the best thing, because they would be able to let the undergraduate students know what else they can do.”

Amy Lippincott, director of education, advocacy and activism for NUBiLAGA, said a lack of student involvement was a reason previous attempts have failed.

“There wasn’t enough undergraduate support for repealing the Solomon Amendment,” Lippincott said.

Danielsen said it will be important to get students involved this time, because the amendment could have negative effects in the future.

“It just sets a kind of precedent for those kinds of criteria to be applied in all sorts of areas and those issues will have to be taken up not just by law schools but by a much broader constituency in education.”

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