The U.S. House Armed Services Committee approved a bill last week that strengthens the 1995 Solomon Amendment, which withholds federal funding from universities that restrict military recruiters’ access to their students. The full U.S. House of Representatives will soon consider the bill, called the ROTC Military Recruiter Equal Access to Campus Act.
The bill, if implemented, would expand the Solomon Amendment by both clarifying its language to ensure that military recruiters have the same access to students as would any other employer, and by stiffening the penalties for noncompliance — the bill adds two new defense-related agencies which can withhold funding from schools that refuse to comply.
U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said in an e-mail that this bill was necessary to ensure that “military recruiters have equal access to our nation’s best and brightest.”
“As we enter the spring recruiting season, the Department of Defense has asked Congress to clarify current law and put military recruiters on equal footing with any other civilian recruiter,” Rogers said in the e-mail. “Unfortunately, the Department of Defense has documented isolated incidents where certain colleges and universities have blocked military recruiters from campus, including one case in which organized faculty and students heckled both recruiters and potential candidates. This simply must not continue.”
Yale and other law schools have been required in recent years to suspend their non-discrimination policies for military recruiters, who have refused to sign non-discrimination clauses because of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Yale Law restricted military recruiters’ access to its career office until 2001, when the administration of President George W. Bush ’68 began aggressively enforcing the Solomon Amendment.
Yale receives over $350 million in federal funding each year.
Support for the bill is not unanimous in Congress — some, like U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii, protested the bill in recent Armed Services Committee hearings.
Abercrombie’s Communications Director Michael Slackman said Abercrombie “hasn’t made any secret of his opposition” to the bill.
“He feels it’s drastically overbroad — it’s like going after a fly with a sledgehammer,” Slackman said. “If one aspect of a University refuses access to ROTC, then everybody connected with the University gets impacted.”
Slackman said Abercrombie was worried that the language of the bill was so broad that it might even put federal student loan guarantees at risk.
The proposed bill comes in the midst of a season of litigation against the Solomon Amendment. Four lawsuits challenging the amendment have been filed in recent months, including one filed in October by 44 Yale Law professors and another filed in October by two student groups at the Law School.
Adam Sofen LAW ’05, a member of OutLaws — a plaintiff in the Yale student suit — said the bill, if passed, would exacerbate the Solomon Amendment’s “viewpoint discrimination problem.” But he said the bill might also strengthen the student suit’s contention that the Solomon Amendment is being incorrectly and unfairly applied to law schools.
“I just think it supports our argument,” Sofen said. “The fact that they feel moved to amend the law suggests that they know they’re violating the law.”
The bill proposes denying all funding from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, and the Central Intelligence Agency, among other federal agencies, to universities that do not provide military recruiters access to their students “in a manner that is at least equal in quality and scope to the degree of access to campuses and to students that is provided to any other employer.”