VT Law School to Lift Ban on Military Recruiters on Campus
July 22, 2011
SOUTH ROYALTON, VT –– Vermont Law School will lift its ban on military recruiters on campus when the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law is formally repealed in late September.
VLS, which has denied campus access to military recruiters for more than 25 years because “don’t ask, don’t tell” conflicts with the school’s non-discrimination policy, notified the U.S. Department of Defense on July 19 that its recruiters will be welcome back on campus when the law is fully repealed and the Pentagon agrees to abide by VLS's non-discrimination policy.
VLS is one of only two law schools in the nation that have prohibited military recruiters on campus because of the "don't ask, don't tell" law, which prevents gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military—and VLS is the only law school to forgo some federal funds because of its stance on "don't ask, don't tell."
"This law school has stood fast to our position of principle, in the face of significant pressure, to insist that the ‘don't ask don't tell' law be repealed," Dean Jeff Shields said.
Legislation to repeal the law was approved by Congress and signed by President Obama in December 2010. U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is expected to announce this afternoon that the Pentagon has certified that the law’s repeal will not affect military readiness. President Obama is expected to certify the repeal, which would become effective in 60 days, or late September.
Shields said VLS was moving forward in rescinding its campus ban because the official repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was imminent and the school wants to be well positioned to welcome military recruiters for the fall employment recruiting season.
Shields, in a letter Tuesday to the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, said VLS will rescind its policy to deny access to military recruiters on campus. Shields also asked that VLS again be made eligible for Department of Defense funding as well as federal funding from other departments and agencies that excluded VLS because of its stance on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“We had continued that longstanding practice of denying campus access with regret because all constituents of Vermont Law School hold the Armed Forces and the several Judge Advocate General's Corps in the highest respect,” Shields wrote. “Nor has our practice reflected any bias against military service as a career for our students or graduates. We recognize the importance to the country of an able corps of lawyers of high quality in the Armed Services and the value to our students of the professional opportunities that JAG service provides. In fact, a number of our students and recent graduates have accepted JAG commissions and internships, and some are presently serving with distinction on active duty.
“Our practice reflected our long and strongly held institutional belief that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, like discrimination on the basis of race and other prohibited grounds, is an unacceptable practice that weakens national unity and arbitrarily deprives the military and all sectors of our society of the abilities and services of individuals of high talent and dedication. Our practice has also been consistent with the public policy of the State of Vermont as reflected in its nondiscrimination legislation. Our campus is now open to fully support the recruiting efforts of the Armed Services.”
Shields cited the leadership of Scott Cameron, former chair of the Board of Trustees; Professor Jackie Gardina, who organized annual student trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the law's repeal; Professor and former Dean Kinvin Wroth; and a number of other trustees and faculty members over the years.
VLS students and JAG recruiters have maintained a strong relationship despite the impediment of having to meet off campus over the years. On average, VLS has the same number of graduates and interns entering JAG as law schools nationwide that have long allowed military recruiters on campus.
Vermont Law School has prohibited military recruiters on campus almost continuously since 1985 when the school adopted a nondiscrimination policy for all employers. The policy prohibits employers from using VLS’s Career Services Office for recruitment on campus unless they give written assurance that they do not discriminate in hiring on a variety of grounds, including sexual orientation. JAG recruiters declined to provide that assurance. In 1990, the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) adopted a requirement that member schools deny campus access for recruitment to employers who decline to provide written assurance that they do not discriminate on those grounds. VLS operated under both its own and the AALS policies since 1990. The "don't ask, don't tell" law was enacted in 1993 under the Clinton administration as a compromise to excluding gay men and lesbians entirely from military service.
In 1995, Congress adopted the Solomon Amendment to withhold some federal money from law schools and universities that do not give military recruiters the same access to campus as other employers. In 2000, the Defense Department announced that if any school or department of a university prohibited military recruiters, the entire university would be denied federal funding under the Solomon Amendment. In response, the AALS suspended its nondiscrimination requirement so far as it affected JAG recruiters, but imposed more stringent requirements of “amelioration” upon law schools that allow JAG recruiters on campus. Since then, nearly all law schools affiliated with a college or university bowed to central university pressure and allowed JAG to recruit on campus and complied with the "amelioration" requirement. VLS, however, as an independent institution, continued to deny military recruiters access to campus.
VLS has not sought federal appropriations, grants or contracts covered under the Solomon Amendment since 2000. The federal law has made VLS ineligible to receive federal funds from the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and certain related agencies. As a result, VLS has forgone the opportunity to receive an estimated $500,000 a year in federal funds. The school has continued to receive funding from other federal agencies, including the Departments of State and Energy. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Solomon Amendment, but the VLS faculty, trustees and students repeatedly reaffirmed the school's nondiscrimination policy and its practice of denying access to military recruiters until the "don't ask, don't tell" law is repealed.
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