Yale was not listed as a plaintiff in a case decided Monday by a federal court of appeals in Philadelphia, but the University still scored a victory. The court, which struck down a law requiring universities with federal funding to allow military recruiters on campus, does not have jurisdiction over Yale, and its ruling is likely to face further appeals. But the decision is still heartening for institutions like Yale Law School that have been forced to repeal their nondiscrimination policies in order to allow on-site recruiting by the Defense Department, which would otherwise be barred because of the military’s exclusionary policy towards gays.
In part, we welcome the ruling because of our opposition to the military’s reprehensible “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. If it stands, the panel’s decision to strike down the so-called Solomon Amendment will reaffirm the ability of universities nationwide to highlight the injustice of a policy that is both discriminatory and against the best interest of the armed forces. We should have no illusions: It is a long way from protests at the Yale Law School to change at the Pentagon. But we hope the renewed freedom of law schools across the country to speak out against “don’t ask, don’t tell” — and the renewed discussion about the policy stemming from these legal challenges to the Solomon Amendment — marks a small but significant step towards change.
At the same time, the ruling underscores an important principle about the freedom of academic institutions to set their own policies. Supporters of the Solomon Amendment argue that if universities like Yale want to continue to receive millions of federal dollars, they must also be willing to accept the conditions under which that funding is granted. But whether or not Yale receives federal money to, for example, conduct research into possible cancer cures or to supplement student financial aid should have nothing to do with the Law School’s position on military recruiting.
The government provides money to Yale toward these ends because they serve the public good, not because they make a political statement. Yale Law students who wish to use their training to serve in the military should certainly be free to do so. But as the majority opinion stated in Monday’s ruling, the federal government should not have the ability to coerce colleges and universities into endorsing a political message with which those schools disagree.
A preliminary injunction means that, at least until further legal rulings, the Solomon Amendment no longer applies to Yale or any other university. With the threat of lost funding at least temporarily diminished, Yale must decide what to do next. We look forward to seeing the Law School’s nondiscrimination policy reinstated as soon as it is clear that doing so will not endanger federal funding Yale cannot afford to lose. Yale Law School should be a leader in taking a stand against the military’s prejudiced policy, and we hope it will soon be able to join Harvard in announcing that it will again enforce its anti-discrimination stance without exceptions.
Monday brought good news for Yale and other universities, and perhaps, a glimmer of hope for those who wish to see an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” With any luck, it is only the first step.