Students Plan Protest of Military Recruiters

In the first organized student response to Harvard Law School’s decision last month to cooperate with military recruiters, members of a gay and lesbian student group will stage a sit-in and rally today to protest the renewed presence of Pentagon officials on the school’s campus.

At the event—scheduled for noon today—protesters will call on the University to utilize its financial resources and political clout to aid in overturning the military’s controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces.

The protest coincides with a scheduled visit by representatives of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) of the U.S. Army today, according to Mark A. Weber, the assistant dean for career services at the Law School.

Military recruiters were barred from the Law School’s Office of Career Services in November of 2004. But last month, Law School Dean Elena Kagan said the school would once again grant the military access to its resources in the face of Pentagon threats to block more than $400 million in federal funding to the University.

During the sit-in today, students will eat lunch on the floor of Harkness Commons to symbolize “that gay students don’t have a place at the [JAG] interview table,” according to Adam R. Sorkin, who is treasurer of Lambda, the Law School’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender student group, which is organizing the protest.

“[The University] needs to use its influence and prestige to move in a direction where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students aren’t discriminated against on campus,” Sorkin said.

The group is calling for University President Lawrence H. Summers to tap the University’s financial reserves and to initiate lobbying efforts to help pass legislation overturning the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, according to a press release.

In a reversal of its longstanding policy to stay out of the legal battle, the University joined a friend-of-the-court brief last month opposing the 1994 Solomon Amendment, which permits the Secretary of Defense to block funding from universities that refuse to allow military recruiters on campus.

But Sorkin said that move was “not enough.”

“There needs to be a visible and concerted effort by the University to really do something about this,” he said. “That’s one action in the last three out of four years…that’s not a very good track record.”

The rally will feature three speakers—Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz, Vietnam veteran Nathaniel G. Butler ’68, and former U.S. Marine Anuradha K. Bhagwati.

Butler, who also chairs the Harvard Lesbian and Gay Caucus’s military taskforce, said he would be “personally delighted” if Summers publicly opposed the amendment.

“I think it would be great if Harvard, given its prestige in the country, were willing to take a public stand on these issues,” he said.

Third-year law student Jennifer L. Carter said she supported the group’s right to protest, but said she fears the possibility of creating an environment of “active hostility” to the military.

“My worry is that while I imagine the end goal is something having to do with openness and inclusiveness, I think the protest might end up being counterproductive,” she said. “I think that in the long run, that could be more harmful than the simple quiet presence of military recruiters.”

A case challenging the Solomon amendment’s legality will be go before the Supreme Court in December.

Law School student Tracy L. Dodds, who signed a July friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Solomon Amendment, wrote in an e-mail that she disagreed with Lambda and thought it was “important” to give military recruiters access to campus, but “I also support the students’ right to speak out against what they believe to be discrimination.”

The event is sponsored by 16 political and nonpolitical student groups, including such groups as the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Law School soccer club, according to a press release.

—Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at jhernand@fas.harvard.edu.