In the letter, sent last week, the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus (HGLC) call Summers’ decision to refrain from taking legal action “a betrayal of Harvard’s fundamental values.”
At issue is the Solomon Amendment, a 1996 law that allows the Pentagon to withhold federal funding from universities that inhibit military recruiters’ access to students on campus. Opponents of the Solomon Amendment say the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy violates Harvard’s commitment to non-discrimination.
Harvard Law School (HLS) bowed to increased pressure from the government in 2002, and allowed the military to recruit through their Office of Career Services. The University risked losing $328 million in federal funding if it did not comply.
The Dec. 3 letter, written by HGLC President Thomas H. Parry ’74 on behalf of the board of directors of the group and its alums, is the latest petition asking Summers to initiate or join litigation against the Department of Defense. Several suits have already been filed by law schools, professors and student groups across the country.
Earlier this fall, Summers received a letter from Lambda, the HLS students’ civil rights group, and another signed by a majority of HLS faculty urging similar action. A handful of HLS professors is currently working with lawyer Walter Dellinger, the former U.S. Solicitor General, to develop a lawsuit.
The HGLC letter is highly critical of Summers, who announced last month that Harvard would not sue.
“Your acquiescence in the presence of discriminatory military recruiters at Harvard Law School violates the principle and policy of non-discrimination and is a particular affront to your own gay and lesbian students,” the letter states.
Parry said he wrote the letter partly at the urging of angry alums.
“More than 80 percent of those we have heard from about this issue—including more than 300 alumni—have asked us to write you to express their outrage at your conduct,” the letter states.
HGLC also blasts Summers’ explanation in a letter to Lambda that he was concerned with preserving the “highly constructive partnership that exists between higher education and the federal government.”
“We ask you to defend Harvard’s nondiscrimination policy, not to temper your support of the military,” Parry writes. “You have every right to support the military, but you have no right to welcome their discrimination into the Harvard community.”
In an interview last month, Summers elaborated on the logic behind his stance.
“The University as an institution is not taking legal action because it seems to us that the question is heavily a political one in terms of the decisions of the Congress and executive branch,” Summers said.
He added that he opposes “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and that he looks forward to the day when the military no longer discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.
The HGLC letter concludes by contrasting what it says are Summers’ shortcomings in the area of gay rights with the accomplishments of his predecessors.
“Under Presidents [Derek C.] Bok and [Neil L.] Rudenstine, Harvard took the lead among the universities in recognizing the equality of its gay and lesbian members....But Harvard under your administration cooperates with those who discriminate against us,” the letter states.
Reached at his home in Los Angeles, Parry said Harvard could challenge the government without risking retribution by joining an anonymous coalition of law schools suing under the banner of the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, a national, anonymous coalition of law schools and professors.
“This is about Harvard having principles,” Parry said.