A group of gay and lesbian alumni submitted a petition to University President Lawrence H. Summers last week asking him to reaffirm Harvard’s commitment to non-discrimination.
The petition is the latest salvo by the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus (HGLC) in a battle against the University’s decision to allow the U.S. military to recruit at Harvard Law School (HLS).
In 1990, Harvard adopted a blanket policy on internal recruiting, which stated that the University could not discriminate in its own hiring practices. But the University has never adopted such a policy for outside recruiters, and since 2002, when the Department of Defense implemented a stricter enforcement of the Solomon Amendment, the military has been allowed to recruit at HLS.
Under the 1996 amendment, Harvard risks losing over $300 million in federal funding if it inhibits military recruiters’ access to students.
Opponents of the amendment say the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy violates Harvard’s commitment to non-discrimination. Currently, each school sets its own guidelines for on-campus recruiting by outside agencies.
“We ask you to clarify that your equivocation concerning military recruiting at the Law School does not imply a weakening of Harvard’s commitment to maintaining a diverse and nondiscriminatory community,” the HGLC wrote in its Jan. 20 letter to Summers.
The group asks Summers in the letter to confirm that, “except as may be required to conform to the Solomon Amendment, or as a matter of free speech,” discriminatory employers are not welcome on campus.
The letter emphasizes the necessity of instituting a University-wide policy on nondiscrimination in recruiting because some schools have “vague, indifferently enforced or no known policies.”
Currently, only the Law School, the Business School, the Graduate School of Education and the Kennedy School of Government have explicit nondiscrimination policies on recruiting, according to the HGLC letter.
“Harvard can’t hide behind saying that its various schools can make up their own policy about recruiting when the central administration in 1990 decided to issue a blanket nondiscrimination policy,” Parry said.
Last month, the HGLC reprimanded Summers for his “acquiescence” over the enforcement of the amendment at HLS and asked him to join or initiate litigation against the Department of Defense.
Summers declined to file suit, saying that he does not believe legal action is appropriate given the “important interests and relationships” between universities and the federal government.
In their most recent letter, HGLC members do not directly demand that Summers join one of numerous lawsuits against the Department of Defense.
“[Summers] shares our goal, but he’s not going to approach our goal with the tactic we asked him to use,” said HGLC President Thomas H. Parry ’74, who wrote both letters to Summers on behalf of the group’s board of directors and members. “There doesn’t seem much point in asking him to do something he’s not going to do.”
Instead, the HGLC requested that group representatives be included in ongoing talks on the Solomon Amendment between the University’s general counsel and Pentagon officials.
“We ask for your assurance that these discussions will be pursued diligently and in good faith,” the letter states. “And we ask either that alumni be included in the discussions or that you give us regular updates on their progress.”
Parry said HGLC members could contribute to the discussions because many are legal experts.
University General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano ’83 wrote in an e-mail that “experienced Washington counsel” is helping the University in the talks.
“[We] are committed to advancing the University’s position through our discussions with the government,” Iuliano wrote.
Founded in 1983, HGLC pressured Harvard administrators nearly 20 years ago to include sexual orientation in the University’s nondiscrimination policy.
Parry said the group’s latest fight over recruitment is driven by its belief that Harvard should maintain its commitment to nondiscrimination and honor gay rights.
“Principles are worth something, which is why our community keeps bringing them up,” he said. “We’re trying to hold [Summers] to higher values.”
Parry said the group has no plans to litigate.
“We’re out there to encourage the appropriate people to do that,” he said.
—Staff writer Andrew C. Esensten can be reached at email@example.com.