Pentagon launches recruiting offensive

Pentagon launches recruiting offensive

At a New York University Law School get-together for prospective students in February, Richard McKewen had one burning question for law school dean John Sexton: "Could you please tell me what NYU's position vis-a`-vis the Solomon Amendment is?"

Sexton didn't miss a beat. According to McKewen's account, he said the law school decided to forgo the money it receives annually from Uncle Sam, so it could continue to bar the military from recruiting on its campus. Sexton explained that NYU Law requires all recruiters to sign a nondiscrimination agreement. Because the military refuses to sign the pledge, it cannot recruit at the school.

Such policies now violate federal law. Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon, R-N.Y., amended many 1997 appropriations bills to deny federal funds to universities that prohibit military recruiting on campus, says Bill Teator, a Solomon spokesman.

If the Defense Department finds a school is violating the amendment, the school loses its grants, such as Perkins loans and work-study money (although those given directly to students, such as Pell grants, continue).

Campus activists have pushed for a strong position against the amendment as a way to protest President Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military. Indeed, the issue has become a mainstay of campus protest.

"Did I do the right thing?" Sexton asked, looking straight at McKewen. "You did a good thing," stammered McKewen, 31, who will start NYU Law next fall and plans to join the gay, lesbian and bisexual organization there.

Approximately 40 law schools across the country now face the same question Sexton fielded.

In an effort to woo law school graduates into their Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, the Pentagon recently jogged many of the country's law schools with letters asking them to "clarify your ... policy regarding military recruiting on campus."

The JAG Corps--the branch of the military featured in the movie "A Few Good Men"--is the Pentagon's legal staff. Pentagon spokesman Tom Begines said the military has a "recurring process of checking" and it is now "contacting a lot of law schools."

National Journal, in a telephone query of the law schools at Columbia University, Duke University, Harvard University, New York University, Stanford University, the University of California (Berkeley), the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia and Yale University, found that six--Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, NYU, Stanford and Yale--said they currently prohibit military recruiting through their career services offices. All have received letters from the Defense Department. If denied the federal funds, Harvard Law estimates it could lose $1 million annually and Stanford Law says it could forfeit $500,000 annually, according to administrators at the schools. The Pentagon letters require a response within 30 days.

At Harvard Law, compliance hit a snag when military recruiters refused to sign its antidiscrimination statement, explained Sally Donahue, director of the law school's office of career services. When the Solomon Amendment took effect for the 1997 academic year, Harvard Law thought--until it received the Pentagon query--that its approach would meet the Pentagon's and its own needs, Donahue said. Any student at Harvard Law can invite a JAG Corps recruiter to campus for an interview, but the JAG Corps cannot use the office of career services. Currently, five Harvard Law graduates participate in the JAG program, Donahue said.

But the recent letter from the Air Force's JAG questioned this approach. "We're very much in the decision-making process right now, having received a letter from the military indicating that they felt our current policy was not in compliance with the Solomon Amendment," said Donahue, who chairs the placement committee that is due to make a recommendation to law school dean Robert C. Clark within a week.

David Lancz, a student on the placement committee, said that the school received a two-week extension from the Defense Department and that the committee has been one vote away from letting the military operate without the required antidiscrimination agreement.

Still, he said he understands the fear some students have of losing their student loans or work-study money, but he said he thinks Harvard Law could afford to make up for the loss.

But some students are not convinced. "Options are being limited; my financial aid is being threatened, and I'm not sure what the point is," said first-year law student Jason Conger, who received $1,000 from Harvard Law in Perkins loans this year.

From the administration's end, Paul Brest, the dean at Stanford Law School, questioned the point of the Pentagon's recruitment effort. "I don't know how long it has been since a grad from Stanford Law School went into JAG," he said. "I think this issue is largely symbolic for them."

Symbolic or not, it's the law, the Pentagon's Begines said. But he added that the Pentagon tries to avoid confrontation. "In the vast majority of cases, the Defense Department has ... not had to resort to applying the sanctions mandated by the amendment," Begines said. It may take a few good men and women to steer the course toward compromise in the coming months.