Unable to hit their target numbers, military recruiters are finding new ways and new populations to recruit. Their efforts, though, are becoming more and more invasive. Some groups ? including a number of universities ? are beginning to take up the fight and push back. At the heart of this matter is a single piece of legislation.
In 1994, Congress passed the Solomon Amendment, which allows the Secretary of Defense to refuse federal grants to colleges and universities that prohibit or prevent ROTC or military recruitment on campus. The policy effectively gives free range to the armed forces.
Only if students actively request and complete an ?opt-out? form can they escape the database. I think it?s safe to say from the junk in my mailbox that I missed the deadline.
The Solomon Amendment has come into play in two particular conflicts: one dealing with the collection of student information for a national database, and the other regarding the military?s response to universities? anti-discrimination policies.
In May, the Department of Defense announced that it was beginning to collect the personal information of all college students and high school students from 16 to 18 years in age. What is most disconcerting is that the database will be available to ?those who require the records in the performance of their official duties.? Privacy advocates are rightly up in arms.
Colleges, including Carnegie Mellon, have the right to adopt privacy policies that prevent outside entities from obtaining a student?s ?directory information,? which may include information like a student?s name and address, but also a photograph and academic information. But the Department of Defense has made its way around colleges? efforts to protect their students? privacy.
Student privacy is pushed to the side, however, in the debate over the Solomon Amendment.
A number of the nation?s top law schools had banned military recruiters from using the schools? career center resources to recruit students, arguing that the Department of Defense?s ?don?t ask, don?t tell? policy violated their non-discrimination policies. Again, the armed forces invoked the Solomon Amendment, threatening to yank millions in funding from Harvard, Yale, and other schools.
The Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), an organization of 30 universities, sued the government, submitting that the law is unconstitutional in that it violates the universities? First Amendment rights. They argue that the law unjustly forces them to spread the military?s discriminatory message inherent in the ?don?t ask, don?t tell? policy.
Our own university takes an interesting position. The University?s Statement of Assurance specifically addresses the matter: ?[I]n the judgment of the Carnegie Mellon Human Relations Commission, the Presidential Executive Order directing the Department of Defense to follow a policy of ?Don?t ask, don?t tell, don?t pursue? excludes openly gay, lesbian and bisexual students from receiving ROTC scholarships or serving in the military. Nevertheless, all ROTC classes at Carnegie Mellon University are available to all students.? Opening ROTC classes to all students is nice, but in the long run it serves little purpose. It does not defend GLBT students who might otherwise apply for scholarships.
So far, the conflict has been limited to law schools, but this is an issue that affects all of higher education. The Supreme Court will hear FAIR?s lawsuit against the government in December. Numerous parties have filed ?friend-of-the-court? briefs supporting FAIR, but in light of the multiple instances where the Solomon Amendment has intruded in the privacy and freedom of higher education, it is time for CMU and other universities to take a more active role in defending their students? rights.