Legally, the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward homosexuals is on firm ground. But don't tell that to America's law professors.
Despite a congressional mandate preventing universities from standing in the way, an association of law professors is doing everything it can to keep the military from recruiting at law schools.
The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) is encouraging its members, including some of the biggest names in the profession, to discourage students from taking jobs in the military when it comes to campus to recruit.
Considering the current national climate, SALT's stance is drawing predictable ire. Andrew Morriss, an associate dean at Case Western Reserve Law School in Cleveland, calls the effort "utterly absurd."
"We're discouraging people from pursuing careers in the institution that right now is engaged in guaranteeing the existence of the rule of law," Morriss said in an interview. "We've got people out there risking their lives and at the same time we're saying law students shouldn't be pursuing a career in the military."
University of Minnesota law professor Carol L. Chomsky, co-president of SALT, said the intent of the effort is to hold the military to the same anti-discrimination standards law schools expect of other employers that recruit on campus.
"Law schools should not allow their facilities to engage in discriminatory hiring," Chomsky said. "The military has not been willing to state they don't engage in discrimination — because of course they do."
The group's effort predates the Sept. 11 terror attacks and does not interfere with the military's ability to recruit on campus, she said.
But among the 27 "action items" on a brochure mailed out to law schools across the country is a suggestion that dean's offices prevent the military from using school resources and career services.
"We want to minimize as much as possible law schools' complicity in helping with the recruiting," Chomsky said. "I don't think our minimizing law school involvement will interfere at all in the military's ability to recruit. We have taken a symbolic step."
In 1996, in response to many universities' ban on military recruitment on campus, Congress passed the Solomon Amendment cutting off federal funds to such schools. Most backed away from the policies in response and, officially at least, now welcome recruiters.
Morriss scoffed at the notion that SALT's proposed restrictions aren't getting in the way of the military's ability to entice good lawyers. He said the military's "don't ask, don't tell" is legal, and lawyers of all people should respect that.
"It's not illegal to discriminate against someone because of sexual orientation," Morriss said. "It's dumb and shouldn't be that way, but I don't think we should dictate that all law schools respond in the same way. It's this one-size-fits-all response."
Though discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation — which the military openly admits to doing — has been challenged in court numerous times, there has never been a federal statute adopted making it against the law.
Morriss believes SALT is misguided in its approach toward trying to change military hiring practices. He believes law students should be able to decide what employers to consider without influence from teachers.
"The proper way to change the policy is to lobby people," he said. "Trying to hamper military recruitment at law schools doesn't seem an appropriate way to make the argument."
Morriss said he, for one, won't be taking SALT's advice on how to deal with military recruiters. He intends to write to the military's Judge Advocate General Corps to welcome them to his campus when they decide to come around.
"I'm going to make sure we're treating them the same way we're treating all other employers," he said.