Another form of protest from the Vietnam era has resurfaced—opposition to military recruiters on campus.
Three organizations have combined to oppose the presence of recruiters at the University of Nevada’s Reno campus.
“We are opposed to the U.S. military using our campuses as centers to recruit our peers to fight and die in illegal wars and occupations, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere,” the coalition said in a statement. “We will not stand by as military recruiters lure our peers into serving as cannon fodder by making misleading and sometimes false promises of money for education and increased opportunity. We plan to distribute information on alternative sources for educational funding and career opportunities, while making clear our opposition to the U.S. occupation in Iraq and the broader drive for U.S. empire around the world.”
The group also expressed its anger at the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy aimed at gays in the military, which it said is both “a flagrant slap in the face to the LGBT [lesbian/ gay/bisexual/trangender] community at UNR, but … also violates UNR’s own policy regarding employers’ access to the campus. UNR’s anti-discrimination policy strictly prohibits employers who discriminate based on sexual orientation from coming on campus to recruit. We therefore believe that the U.S. military’s presence on campus should be opposed by the UNR administration and plan to make our opposition to discrimination and homophobia a central part of the action.”
Under a federal law called the Solomon amendment, colleges that receive federal funds are required to give the same access to military recruiters as to other on-campus recruiters such as corporations—and federal funds are denied to campuses that don’t comply.
In UNR’s case, if other recruiters are being held to a different discrimination policy than the military, that may not be the same access.
A statement by UNR President John Lilley didn’t address the question of different standards, but it seemed to suggest that officials are uncomfortable with providing access to an entity that discriminates.
“As a matter of practice,” he said, “we do not provide recruiting opportunities to organizations that discriminate in their hiring practices based on race, religion, or sexual preference. At the same time, we must comply with federal. state, and local laws. Federal legislation requires colleges and universities to provide students with access to recruiting information provided by the nation’s armed services.”
Lilley said of the protests against campus military recruiting, “Freedom of thought and expression is essential to any institution of higher learning. The university supports the rights of our student body and larger university community to speak freely, exercising their right to protest. … There are, however, responsibilities that come with these rights.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently halted enforcement of the Solomon amendment in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights. The American Civil Liberties Union has entered the case on the side of the Forum, arguing that the Solomon amendment allows a discriminatory employer on campus and that by allowing the military to “commandeer” campuses, it is forcing educational institutions to be a party to recruitment, thereby violating their speech rights—a case of “compelled speech and a form of viewpoint discrimination.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Third Circuit decision.