The battle over recruiting on campus

The Supreme Court will now decide whether universities have a right to shut out military recruiters, without risking their federal funding.

Published May 3, 2005 11:11PM (EDT)

The Pentagon's recruitment woes continue -- and they could get worse, depending on a case now before the Supreme Court. On Monday, the nation's top justices agreed to hear a case that could allow universities to bar military recruiters from their campuses without the threat of losing federal funding.

Last November, a coalition of law schools challenged the Solomon Amendment -- which permits the government to withhold funding from schools that deny recruiters access -- by invoking the right not to "associate" with people linked to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The schools argued the policy was anti-gay and conflicted with their own non-discrimination guidelines. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and issued an injunction barring the government from enforcing the amendment. The Defense Department appealed the ruling, along with another ruling in February, in which Yale University's law school won the right to bar recruiters from their campus for the same reason.

The U.S. government is citing national security as part of its argument to maintain access to campuses: "Effective recruitment is essential to an all-volunteer military, particularly in a time of war," the government's lawyers said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

While students have mounted anti-recruitment campaigns from Chicago to California, GOP Congressman Richard Pombo, a co-sponsor of the Solomon amendment, isn't sympathetic to their cause. He told the Los Angeles Times that the amendment was created to "send a message over the wall of the ivory tower of higher education" and that "starry-eyed idealism comes with a price. If they are too good -- or too righteous -- to treat our nation's military with the respect it deserves, then they may also be too good to receive the generous level of taxpayer dollars presently enjoyed by many institutions of higher education in America."

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the federal government, Yale university could lose $300 million in taxpayer dollars for taking its stand. Other schools in the coalition, including Georgetown and Stanford, would pay a similar price.

By Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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