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by Vault Careers | March 10, 2009


Wisdom of Solomon?

In January 1993, President Bill Clinton proposed a new policy regarding gays and lesbians serving in the military -- the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule. Previously, the military actively searched its ranks for gays and lesbians and discharged them from service. Under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, military commanders are forbidden to inquire about or investigate the sexual orientation of their underlings; gay personnel are not to disclose their orientation through any means. However, if it becomes known that a member of the military is a homosexual, that person is subject to discharge. The policy, though considered an improvement by some, was still controversial. Critics argued that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" did nothing to stop discrimination against homosexuals, but merely allowed them to remain in the military as long as they kept their private life strictly under wraps -- a demand not made of heterosexual service members.

The controversy spilled over into an unlike arena -- campus recruiting. Many universities and law schools have an anti-discrimination policy that prevents employers with discriminatory employment or hiring practices from using school resources to recruit. Many universities cited that policy in banning military recruiters from school campuses -- including recruiting by Judge Advocate General (JAG) units, the legal corps of the branches of the armed services. Students interested in careers in the armed forces had to contact JAG and other military recruiters individually and set up interviews off campus.

A couple of mid-1990s spending bills -- a Department of Defense funding bill passed in 1995 and one covering the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education passed in 1997 -- contained clauses known as the Solomon Amendment. Named after Gerard B.H. Solomon, who was U.S. Representative from New York for 20 years, the 1995 law barred universities that banned military recruiters from receiving funding of any kind (including research grants) from the Defense Department; the 1997 law extended the ban to include any kind of federal funding, except for direct student aid, which was not affected. (Rep. Solomon died in October 2001, three years after retiring from the House.)

At first, the Solomon Amendment was sparsely enforced, and military recruiters met with interested students off campus. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a renewed sense of patriotism and a new sense of the military importance led to pressure on schools who had eliminated the military (both recruiters and ROTC programs) from campus to include the armed services. The pressure, which came in different degrees from government officials, alumni groups and the public at large, led to revival of the Solomon Amendment. In late 2002, the universities -- and specifically, the law schools -- began to respond. High-profile law schools like Harvard, Yale, Columbia and New York University opened their doors to JAG recruiters. The law schools had billions of dollars at stake. According to the Boston Globe, Columbia, Harvard and Yale alone stood to lose more than $1 billion in research grants and other aid. Though military recruiters have returned to many law school and college campuses, the debate is by no means over. At most school, the change in policy was met with student and faculty protest, and several groups are lobbying to reverse the Solomon Amendment. Meanwhile, administrators have pledged to continue allowing JAG and military recruiters on campus, despite widespread criticism of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.


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