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Chafing under federal laws that effectively require universities to allow military recruiters on campus, a coalition of law schools led by a Stanford University law professor is gearing up a national campaign to rewrite the statutes, and has signed on a South Bay congressman to help lead the charge.
U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell, whose 15th Congressional District includes the Silicon Valley, and fellow Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts recently introduced legislation to scale back the so-called Solomon Amendments, a pair of laws that threaten to cut off federal grants and student aid to universities that won't open their doors to the military.
Stanford University's law school has emerged as a hotbed of opposition to the Solomon Amendments. Deborah Rhode, a Stanford law professor and president of the Association of American Law Schools, is mustering the AALS's might to press for changes in the statutes. And Campbell himself is a member of the law school faculty.
At issue is the military's practice of expelling known homosexuals. Most universities have their own policies that prohibit employers who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation from coming on campus to conduct job interviews with students.
The AALS, in particular, has bylaws binding its members -- virtually every law school in the country -- to a nondiscrimination policy that covers sexual orientation. In effect, the AALS bylaws prohibit military recruiters from setting foot on almost any law school campus in the United States.
Under the Solomon Amendments, Stanford and countless other universities stand to lose hundreds of millions in federal financial aid and Department of Defense grants and contracts for refusing to comply.
The amendments came about a few years after President Clinton signed "don't ask don't tell," his controversial compromise on gays in the military, into law in 1993. U.S. Rep. Gerald Solomon of New York introduced the two amendments as riders to other legislations.
The first rider, known as Solomon I, cuts off DOD contracts and grants to universities that bar military recruitment or don't allow the presence of Reserved Officers Training Corp programs. The second rider, Solomon II, goes even further, calling for a cutoff of all financial aid for students attending the offending institutions. Under the law, students could potentially lose their Perkins loans, Supplemental Educational Opportunities grants, and federal work-study funds, money that often makes the difference in whether thousands of students can pay for their education.
So far, no schools have actually lost funds, but the threat hangs over them. Last fall, the Defense Department sent letters to universities across the country warning them of the consequences of not complying with the Solomon Amendments. A year earlier, a dozen schools that had been denying military personnel access received letters of sanction, and subsequently changed their policies to accommodate military recruiters.
The legislation recently introduced by Campbell and Frank would basically repeal Solomon II, allowing students at offending universities to continue receiving federal financial aid. Solomon I would remain on the books, letting the Defense Department cut off grants to and contracts with uncooperative schools.
Universities have condemned the Solomon Amendments from the outset. The laws "force schools to pick between two disadvantaged groups: those who are denied career opportunities solely on the basis of sexual orientation and those who depend on financial aid to pursue a professional education," says the AALS's Rhode.
The Campbell-Frank legislation would save schools from having to make such unpalatable choices. Because few schools currently receive DOD contracts and grants, the Campbell-Frank legislation would make it possible for most institutions to ban military recruiters and preserve their nondiscrimination policies without suffering heavy financial penalties.
At Stanford and other universities, gay, lesbian, and transgender campus groups have become most active in pushing for repeal of the Solomon Amendments.
Outlaw, a gay/lesbian/transgender group founded by law students at Stanford, a few weeks ago unveiled a Web site devoted to the repeal of the laws. At UC Berkeley and the City College of San Francisco, gay and lesbian activists regularly protest whenever the military comes on campus to recruit.
The AALS has publicly condemned the Solomon Amendments and has written to Congress in support of the Campbell-Frank legislation. Rhode cast the issue in terms of academic freedom in an editorial she wrote for the February issue of the influential National Law Journal.
"A campaign to repeal the Solomon II Amendment is an opportunity to demonstrate that a broad cross section of the public condemns discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and restrictions on academic freedom," she wrote. Law professors nationwide have also formed a committee to work for repeal of the amendments, and are recruiting school administrators, students, and faculty members to wage letter-writing campaigns.
City College of San Francisco received a sanction letter from the Defense Department two years ago. The school's Board of Trustees had previously banned military recruiters, but rescinded its policy after receiving the threatening letter.
"In consideration of the amount of funding that would be lost to the entire college community, and not having higher education accessible to low-income students by way of financial aid, it was a difficult decision to make," says Robert Balestreri, City College's dean of admissions and records.
In response to the DOD letters, the AALS also sent letters to its members giving them permission to modify their nondiscrimination policies to try to comply with the law.
As the Campbell-Frank legislation makes its way through the process, Bay Area colleges are dealing with the Solomon Amendments in their own ways.
Stanford's law school requires at least five students to show interest before any employer -- including the military -- can recruit on campus. So far, no military recruiters have made it past that test, says outgoing law school dean Paul Brest.
UC Berkeley is now operating under a revised nondiscrimination policy that permits military recruiters. The school's old policy had banned employers who discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. The new policy bars only those employers who "unlawfully" discriminate.
Since the courts have upheld the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy, its discrimination against homosexuals is lawful, says Lujana Treadwell, assistant dean at Berkeley's law school, Boalt Hall.
At the same time, Treadwell says that the faculty has passed an internal nondiscrimination policy reaffirming its commitment to equal treatment for all students in employment regardless of sexual orientation.
According to Campbell's spokesperson, Suhail Khan, the congressman is optimistic about the passage of the bill, and expects it to go through before summer recess.
"Both Republicans and Democrats are responding very positively," Khan says. "It's just a fairness issue. Everybody has universities in their district. Everybody has college-bound kids in their district.