Court Scraps Ban on Recruiters

In a unanimous decision last week, the Supreme Court upheld a law that cuts off federal funding to universities that bar military recruiters from campus.

The court ruled against an association of law schools, which had argued that the law, known as the Solomon Amendment, was an unconstitutional violation of their First Amendment rights. The schools contended that barring recruiters was an exercise of free speech against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces.

But in an 8-0 decision, written by new Chief Justice John Roberts, the court ruled that the law in no way violated universities’ civil rights.

“The Solomon Amendment neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything,” Roberts wrote in the decision. “A military recruiter’s mere presence on campus does not violate a law school’s right to associate, regardless of how repugnant the law school considers the recruiter’s message.”

Furthermore, Roberts wrote that because the U.S. Constitution grants Congress broad powers to raise and support armies, Congress has the authority to require campus access for military recruiters and it need not give schools a choice.

“It is clear that a funding condition cannot be unconstitutional if it could be constitutionally imposed directly,” Roberts wrote.

Although the plaintiff in the case, the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, did not include any UC school, the decision will have wide ramifications for academic freedom and principles, according to Ailya Haider, one of the attorneys representing F.A.I.R.

“They’re asking us to give preferential treatment to the military the same way we treat a nondiscriminatory employer,” Haider said. “It seems to smack of something morally wrong.”

Hundreds of millions of federal dollars are at stake. The National Science Foundation ranks UCSD first in the UC system and sixth in the nation in federal research and development funding. According to its annual financial report, UCSD received $507 million in federal research awards in 2003, 81 percent of the $627 million in total research awards UCSD faculty secured. With the recent court decision, UCSD would risk losing over half a billion dollars if it closed the campus to military recruiters.

“The idea that the government can use money to bully schools is very troubling,” Haider said. “This is not healthy for democracy.”

However, UCSD has not banned military recruiters from campus because they don’t violate university policy, according to Career Services Center Director Andrew Ceperley.

“Military recruiters have participated in campus events, such as job fairs, in the past, and will continue to do so in the future,” Ceperley said. “As long as an employer’s hiring practices are in keeping with applicable federal and state law, the employer may participate in university-endorsed events.”

However, state discrimination laws include sexual orientation in a list of protected traits. UCSD policy suggests it favors protection for gay students as well.

According to the Career Services Center’s On-Campus Interviewing Policy, “consideration should be afforded to all candidates without regard to race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or age.”