Harvard to Join Recruitment Talks

Crimson Staff Writers
January 5, 2004

Harvard lawyers and Pentagon officials have agreed to launch negotiations aimed at resolving a dispute over military recruitment on campus, University President Lawrence H. Summers told an alumni group last month.

The negotiations will center on the 1996 Solomon Amendment, under which the Pentagon has threatened to cut federal funding to universities that limit recruiters’ access to students because of claims that the military discriminates against gays.

In a Dec. 19 letter to Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus President Thomas H. Parry ’74, Summers wrote that instead of joining one of four lawsuits challenging the statute, the University has “in recent weeks secured the agreement of Pentagon officials to enter into discussions” aimed at reconciling conflicting interpretations of the amendment.

Under Harvard Law School (HLS) policy, employers who recruit through the Office of Career Services must sign a pledge stating that they will treat employees equally regardless of sexual orientation. The armed forces’ “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy mandates the discharge of openly gay service members, and the Pentagon has refused to sign the pledge.

The new talks are not Harvard’s first attempt to negotiate with the Pentagon over its policies.

When HLS was considering reversing its policy against millitary recruiting in the summer of 2002, the school’s administrators met with senior Pentagon officials but concluded that the Defense Department would not allow Harvard to enforce the nondiscrimination policy for military recruiters.

“It’s clear to us that the evaluation was not going to change within the short term,” said Kevin Casey, Harvard’s senior director of federal and state relations, in October 2002.

So the Law School granted the Pentagon an exemption from its nondiscrimination policy.

Gay rights activists on campus question whether the new talks will be more effective than Harvard’s previous attempts to negotiate with the military on this issue.

“It’s basically two-year-old news,” said second-year law student Sam P. Tepperman-Gelfant ’00, academic chair of the students civil rights group HLS Lambda.

“Informally negotiating with the Pentagon is a strategy that Harvard and a lot of other schools attempted when the Pentagon first came down with its interpretation [in 2002],” said Tepperman-Gelfant, who is a former Crimson executive. “It was a strategy that had no results two years ago. I have no reason to believe that it will yield results now.”

Parry also said he doubted that negotiations would prove fruitful.

“As far as Summers trying to solve all this, I hope he can succeed on the course he set for himself,” he said. “I don’t think he’s going to, quite frankly. But maybe he’s got the kind of credibility and persuasive powers with the general counsel of the Defense Department.”

Harvard officials yesterday declined to explain how the newly-announced negotiations would differ from past attempts at compromise.

University General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano ’83 told The Crimson in an e-mail that “discussions with the government are ongoing,” but declined to comment further. And University Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Alan J. Stone also declined comment yesterday on whether the discussions Summers announced would be different than previous talks.

Pentagon officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Summers’ announcement of talks with the Pentagon came in response to a Dec. 3 letter from Parry assailing him for acquiescing to the Pentagon pressure and pressing the University to join or file a lawsuit against the Pentagon.

In his letter to Parry, Summers expressed sympathy with gay rights advocates’ aims. “The Solomon Amendment as interpreted and enforced is bad public policy,” he wrote.

The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule is “offensive to human dignity and to principles of nondiscrimination,” Summers added.

But Summers’ sharp criticism of the Pentagon failed to assuage some Solomon Amendment opponents.

“For him to make statements about public policy ignores a crucial issue,” Tepperman-Gelfant said. “This is not just about ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ It’s about the promise that Harvard has made to its students...about academic freedom and equal opportunity.”

Summers reiterated that the University would not challenge the Pentagon’s interpretation of the Solomon Amendment in court, though HLS Lambda President Amanda C. Goad said yesterday that Law School students are currently preparing suits independent of the University.

HLS faculty have made moves towards litigation as well, though neither the faculty nor the students considering suits will say when they might be ready to file.

“There is starting to be a beneficial effect because of the pressure brought to bear against the Defense Department, not only at Harvard, but by law schools across the country,” said Boston College Professor of Law Kent Greenfield, president of the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), a network of 15 law schools organized to fight the Solomon Amendment.

In December, a U.S. District Court Judge John C. Lifland rejected FAIR’s motion for a temporary injunction suspending the amendment. The group appealed Lifland’s ruling to the Third Circuit Court.

Greenfield said that FAIR will submit briefs to the appellate court today. Pentagon lawyers will then have one month to respond, and oral arguments will follow soon thereafter.