Summers faces mounting pressure from students and faculty, who charge that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards gays and lesbians contradicts the University’s commitment to non-discrimination.
Yesterday morning, leaders of a Harvard Law School (HLS) civil rights group delivered a petition bearing 1,082 student and faculty signatures to Mass. Hall urging Summers to file suit against the Pentagon.
Monday’s Mass. Hall discussion came less than a month after a majority of HLS’ faculty signed a letter calling on Summers to add Harvard’s weight to the growing number of suits challenging the 1996 Solomon Amendment, which allows the Pentagon to deny federal funding to universities that thwart military recruitment efforts.
Opponents of the statute claim that it unconstitutionally overrides law schools’ nondiscrimination policies, which require that recruiters treat employees equally on the basis of sexual orientation.
Summers told professors Monday that although he would not discourage faculty from independently filing suit, Harvard would not now launch its own legal challenge, according to University General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano, who also attended the meeting.
“[F]or a variety of institutional considerations, including the partnership that exists between universities and the federal government in a number of important areas, the university itself does not expect to take the adversarial step of initiating litigation,” Iuliano wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson.
According to Professor of Law Christine A. Desan, who organized the HLS faculty’s letter to Summers last month, professors are currently mulling the possibility of filing a suit independently of the University’s central administration, as Yale Law School professors did in October.
The more recent petition effort, spearheaded by the HLS students’ civil rights group Lambda, comes as a barrage of litigation challenging the Solomon Amendment—including suits filed by students and faculty at Yale and University of Pennsylvania Law Schools—weaves its way through the judicial system.
Petitioning for Change
Lambda members are also considering the possibility of filing suit themselves, although the group’s president, second-year law student Amanda C. Goad, said that from a legal perspective, “the ideal would be Harvard signing onto the suit.”
According to Goad, Lambda members and professors are closely collaborating to devise a legal game plan for challenging the Pentagon’s policy.
Half a dozen HLS students, under the direction of Bloomberg Professor of Law Martha L. Minow, are researching “the relative merits of different types of suits,” Goad said.
She added that the anti-Solomon Amendment movement has also been bolstered by support from Tyler Professor of Law Laurence H. Tribe, a constitutional law expert who has helped coordinate faculty strategy.
But Lambda has encountered setbacks in its effort to organize student opposition to the statute.
The Law School Council (LSC), a student government organization, this fall voted down by a 17-14 margin a Lambda-sponsored resolution urging HLS to join a coalition of law schools which has filed suit against the Department of Defense.