Law School To Cooperate With Military Recruiters

HLS decision comes after Pentagon threatened to withhold federal grants

Harvard Law School will actively cooperate with military recruiters this fall, despite the Pentagon’s refusal to sign the school’s nondiscrimination pledge, Dean Elena Kagan announced this evening.

Kagan’s announcement marks a reversal of her November 2004 decision to bar Pentagon recruiters from using the law school’s Office of Career Services. For most of the last 26 years, the office has only provided its resources to recruiters who promise not to discriminate against gay and lesbian employees and job applicants. The Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

In an e-mail to students and faculty this evening, Kagan wrote that the Pentagon had notified the University this summer that it would withhold most federal grants to Harvard unless the Law School altered its policy to allow military recruiters access to the resources of the career services office. Harvard receives more than $400 million per year in federal grants.

Meanwhile, University President Lawrence H. Summers said in a statement tonight that Harvard will file a friend-of-the-court brief tomorrow urging the Supreme Court to invalidate the Solomon Amendment, the statute passed by Congress in 1994 that allows the secretary of defense to block federal funds to universities that deny military recruiters “equal access” to campuses.

“The Law School and the University share a deep and enduring commitment to the principles of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity for all persons,” Summers said.

Summers also said that he agreed with Kagan’s move to grant Pentagon recruiters an exemption from the nondiscrimination policy.

“This decision is prudent given the potential consequences to the University’s research and other activities,” he said.

Approximately 40 Harvard professors—including Kagan—have signed a separate brief urging the high court to overturn the Solomon Amendment, said Smith Professor of Law Martha L. Minow.

A federal appellate panel in Philadelphia ruled last year that the Solomon Amendment “requires law schools to express a message that is incompatible with their educational objectives” and therefore violates the schools’ free-speech rights. The panel suspended the enforcement of the amendment.

But the panel consisted of judges from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and its ruling did not make clear whether the Solomon Amendment still applied outside the Third Circuit—which includes Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), a coalition of more than two dozen law schools that oppose the Solomon Amendment. Harvard is not a member of FAIR, and Summers has said that the University will not file a suit against the federal government challenging the Solomon Amendment.

The Supreme Court announced in May that it will review the Third Circuit’s decision later this year, when it is expected to offer the first definitive interpretation of the statute.

With Harvard facing the potential loss of its federal grants, amounting to 15 percent of its total budget, Kagan wrote in her e-mail, “I regret making this exception to our antidiscrimination policy” and reiterated her opposition to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” protocol.

“I believe the military’s discriminatory employment policy is deeply wrong—both unwise and unjust. And this wrong tears at the fabric of our own community by denying an opportunity to some of our students that other of our students have,” she wrote.

CAMPUS REACTS

Before making her policy reversal public today, Kagan attended a meeting last night of the Law School’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender student group, Lambda, to explain her decision.