High Court Opens Campuses to Military

Daily News Article   —   Posted on March 7, 2006

(by Alec Magnet, NYSun.com) – The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps [ROTC] and other military bodies expelled from university grounds during the Vietnam War may make their return to campuses following a Supreme Court decision yesterday to uphold a law requiring higher education bodies receiving federal funding to allow military recruiters on school premises.

In an 8-0 decision yesterday in the case of Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, the Supreme Court declared constitutional a law known as the Solomon Amendment. The court rejected arguments that the law violated schools’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to assist military recruiters. The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” for gay soldiers violates most law schools’ non-discrimination regulations.

The ruling has disappointed members of the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, referred to as FAIR, which consists of 36 law schools and faculties, as well as a number of individual law professors who oppose the Solomon Amendment. Law schools are in the vanguard of purging campuses of military recruiters as the Association of American Law Schools, of which 165 of America’s 190-odd law schools are members, requires its members to adopt strict nondiscrimination policies.

The Solomon Amendment, an addendum to the National Defense Authorization Act passed in 1995, also denies most federal funding to schools that prohibit the military from operating ROTC programs on campuses or prevent students from enrolling in military programs at other universities. A senior at Columbia University and chairman of the Advocates for Columbia ROTC, Sean Wilkes, told The New York Sun yesterday that the ruling “adds weight to our campaign.”

Columbia dissolved its ROTC program in 1969 amid pacifist protests over the Vietnam War. In May 2005, the university’s senate voted 51-11 not to allow the program to return, despite the 65% of students in favor of returning the ROTC to the campus, according to a poll conducted at the time. Columbia students have turned to military programs at Fordham University and Manhattan College.

Mr. Wilkes said the current arrangement was flawed because students “have to travel to another school, and Columbia does not accept any credits for the ROTC program – does not recognize it in any way, shape, or form.” He said the court’s ruling yesterday “opens an avenue” that his organization would pursue, though he added that the Department of Defense would have to demand that Columbia establish an ROTC program for the ruling to have any effect.

Another Columbia senior, Mark Xiu, president of the Columbia Military Society, said in an e-mail, “I certainly intend to press the matter in my capacity as a student, now that the momentum has shifted, but ultimately it’s up to the DoD to decide whether or not to invoke” the Solomon Amendment.

He added: “The decision does not directly apply to ROTC programs, since it has not yet been established if the argument that ‘recruiters are not a part of the law school’ applies to either a full or satellite ROTC office.”

In the court’s decision issued yesterday, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the law did not violate schools’ right to free association because “Law schools ‘associate’ with military recruiters in the sense that they interact with them, but recruiters are not part of the school.” They come to campus to recruit students, “not to become members of the school’s expressive association.”

A spokeswoman for Columbia, Susan Brown, said, “It’s premature to speculate on the ramifications of this ruling.”

The president of FAIR, Kent Greenfield, told the Sun yesterday that he would not be surprised if ROTC advocates used yesterday’s ruling as “the next stage in the battle.”

Spokesmen for the Defense Department did not return messages yesterday evening.

Several schools yesterday issued statements expressing their disappointment with the ruling, though they said they were already in compliance with the law after the Defense Department last year threatened to withdraw their funding.

“The Solomon Amendment creates a conflict between two of higher education’s fundamental values – our commitment to non-discrimination for all, and our commitment to ensuring the resources for our scholars and students to pursue their work,” a spokesman for New York University, John Beckman, said in a statement. “Our nation’s universities are not anti-military, they are anti-discrimination. Regrettably, today’s Supreme Court decision will ensure that this important distinction is lost.”

Columbia issued a statement yesterday saying: “We are disappointed in today’s Supreme Court ruling, but will of course continue to abide by the law. Our disagreement with the military on this issue does not diminish in any way our respect for the military, or for the men and women serving in it.”

Mr. Greenfield said the fight over the militaries policy toward gay soldiers would continue, and that popular opinion was against such discrimination.

In the decision, Chief Justice Roberts affirmed schools’ rights to protest against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The president of the Association of American Law Schools, Carl Monk, told the Sun yesterday that the organization would require its members to make clear that they do not support the presence of military recruiters on their campuses.

Justice Samuel Alito took no part in yesterday’s decision because he was not a member of the court when it heard arguments on the case.

Rep. Gerald Solomon, a Republican who represented New York in the House for 20 years, died in 2001 at the age of 71.

Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.