The conference is part of a larger movement on college campuses around the country, including a protest at Harvard Law School in late October.,Last Friday, students and lawyers from across the country gathered at Boston College Law School to discuss a law that they consider threatening to anti-discrimination policies in universities nationwide.
The conference is part of a larger movement on college campuses around the country, including a protest at Harvard Law School in late October.
The Solomon Amendment states that government funding will not be provided to schools that bar military recruiters from their campuses. The case was developed and brought to trial by more than 12 law schools, but the amendment currently applies to all institutions of higher education that receive government funding.
Representatives from universities involved with the lawsuit said they intend to keep recruiters off campus because of their anti-discrimination policies. The military has a statute that excludes openly gay and lesbian applicants.
Kate McDonough, co-president of the Emerson Alliance for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone (EAGLE), said she thinks it is vital for college students to voice their disapproval of the amendment.
"I think it's important for institutions to stand behind the gay community, especially prestigious schools like Harvard who have a big name," said McDonough, a junior organizational and political communication and film double major. "Hopefully they can work toward abolishing the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. I understand where the institutions are coming from-the government gives them a lot of money-but they also get a lot of money from alumni funding, so I think they could spare some to help the cause of social justice."
The Solomon Amendment, passed by Congress in 1995, originally applied to law schools, as the military came in to recruit military lawyers for the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, a division of the U.S. Navy.
The amendment, however, has since been expanded to cut off funding to entire universities if any one of their "sub-elements" refuses to comply with the requests of the recruiters. This means that, if a law school, as a division of a larger university, decides not to let recruiters on campus, the government has the right to revoke funding for the entire school, according to a revised version of the amendment passed in 1996.
On Sept. 9, 2002, the Boston College Law faculty members voted to suspend their nondiscrimination policy and allow military recruiters on campus in an effort to keep their federal funding. By September of the next year, a collection of law schools, law professors and student groups had filed a lawsuit against the government. The case traveled around the district and lower circuit federal courts.
On Dec. 6 of this year, the case, which started at Boston College, will stand before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Legal analysts consider it a landmark case since it deals with First Amendment issues like the power of government spending to compel speech.
The conference, called "Rumsfeld v. FAIR (Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights): Exploring the Solomon Amendment Challenge," was an all-day event hosted on the Newton Campus of Boston College Law School. The first hour of the conference dealt with issues of the case facts led by four panelists: Professor Taylor Flynn, a former ACLU staff attorney; Sharon Frase, a counselor for FAIR; Dan Roth, of the Alliance for Justice; and Professor of both Business Law and Regulation and Economics at Case Law School Andrew Morriss. The panelists covered the facts and Roth, Frase and Flynn, who supported the case against the amendment, presented the arguments that will be used in court next month.
Frase, an attorney with the Heller Ehrman Firm, said that Rumsfeld v. FAIR was at "the heart of First Amendment claims" and that the Solomon Amendment "forces private institutions to discriminate or help discriminate against their own students."
The panelists against the Solomon Amendment said that the government was using its spending power as a form of coercion. Since millions of dollars were at stake for the university, they had no other choice but to engage in what the FAIR brief labels as "morally problematic speech."
Morriss, who disagrees with the litigation, said the suit is targeting the wrong party, and that Congress was the actual problem.
"The military is doing what Congress told it to," said Morriss in his address to the conference. "And if it didn't, we'd have bigger problems than we do here."
Morriss also accused law schools' faculty and administrators of being hypocrites and supported what the government said in its writings about the case that schools "volunteer to associate with the government's money and then claim the First Amendment right not to associate with the government."
Vice President of Public Affairs David Rosen said he did not know about the school's policy regarding recruiters on campus, but said he had never seen a military recruiter here. Rosen said he doubted the military would be interested in recruiting at Emerson, since it is a small school and has no Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) program.
Rosen also said he didn't think the policy of withholding funds from schools who deny military access would have much of an effect here.
"We get very little federal funding," Rosen said. "I don't think the amendment has a practical impact on Emerson."
Despite Rosen's belief that the military will not recruit on campus, students said they were against the Solomon Amendment, not only because of the school nondiscrimination policy but also because of the principles behind allowing military recruiters into colleges.
"I think it's a bad policy that would allow the government to withhold funds and force schools to allow recruiters on campus," said Jake Carman, a sophomore audio/radio major and spokesman for the Emerson Anti-Authoritarian group.
Carman has been involved with anti-military recruitment protests staged at a nearby recruiting office.
"I haven't really seen it much on Emerson's campus, except a few pamphlets in the Office of Student Life," Carman said. "I think recruiters are probably more effective for people who aren't in college because they target less well-off people as a means of paying for college. But, anywhere the military is allowed to spread their propaganda definitely affects some people."
Most Emerson students interviewed after the event said they hoped the Solomon Amendment would be defeated.
"If they won, it would be a victory for civil rights in general," said Michael Lower, a freshman film major. "It's about expressing yourself. And here, since [Emerson] is an art school, expressing yourself is the most important thing to us."
Amanda Pinto contributed to this report.