This week, Yale Law School faculty said they would soon file suit against the Department of Defense. The suit alleging that the 1995 Soloman Amendment, which requires colleges and universities receiving federal funding to allow military recruiters on campus, is unconstitutional because the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy violates the University’s nondiscrimination policy. We are dismayed that government funding would be used as leverage against a liberal campus’ own internal policies, and urge the faculty of the Law School to follow through with their suit, which we believe is an innovative solution to a problem that puts the University and its students in a no-win situation.
The suit — if filed — will follow similar suits recently filed by law school faculty members at the University of Pennsylvania and by a coalition of seven other anonymous law schools. Until last fall, Yale was one of a number of schools that had forbidden the military from participating in official on-campus recruiting programs. But in the last two years the government has been toughening up on schools that bar on-campus military recruiting, warning them that they stand to lose their federal funding. With $350 million in federal funding at stake — a figure that accounts for over 30 percent of the University’s operating budget — last fall Yale waived its nondiscrimination policy for the first time. Last week, the University waived its policy for the third time in a year to allow the Judge Advocate General Corps to recruit on campus.
It would be easy to say Yale’s been bought. But the University should never have been put into this position, and the greater injustice is a government that uses financial threats to force institutions of higher learning to suspend the principles for which they stand. Seventy-five percent of the $350 million the University receives in federal funding goes to the medical school, which would be unfairly penalized by a funding loss. Although the chance of losing $350 million may seem slim, the possibility puts Yale in a precarious position.
Yale Law has long been a leader in gay rights and was one of the first law schools to include sexual orientation nondiscrimination in its policies. Now the University has the chance to be a leader once again. Although administrators at other schools have given lip service to the importance of ending military discrimination, the law school faculty here can take action.
We understand that a single lawsuit by a group of Yale professors is unlikely to reverse long-time military policy. But since the University’s hands are tied — for Yale itself to file suit would essentially be admitting a violation of the Soloman Amendment — the professors taking the issue into their own hands is perhaps the only feasible step.
We wholeheartedly endorse the law professors’ suit and hope the University can lend its support to the fight against discrimination in ways that don’t seriously jeopardize its funding. But even a victory in such a lawsuit would fail to solve the larger injustice of our military’s discriminatory policy, and until the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy is changed, universities and their students are always going to be caught in the middle.