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Military Recruiters on Campus


Next month the Supreme Court will hear a case that pits some of the nation's leading academic institutions against the US military. At issue is whether the government can withhold federal funds from schools that refuse to assist military recruiters. The schools want to cut out the recruiters to protest the military's `don't ask, don't tell' policy for dealing with gays. For Yale University, the stakes are especially high. The Bush administration has threatened to cut off $350 million in federal aid unless Yale Law School provides full access to the military to recruit its students. For commentator Ken Harbaugh, this conflict has become a test of loyalties.


As a military pilot turned Yale law student, I am proud to be part of two great and noble institutions. But the relationship between Yale and the military is now defined more by their differences than their similarities. The military discriminates against gays, so Yale denies military recruiters equal access to its students. Neither side is right.

If Yale's ultimate goal is to reverse discrimination--and that should be the goal--the the adversarial approach is not working. It is probably true that some in academia despise what the military stands for, but it should be acknowledged that the bad feeling runs both ways.

A generation ago, Yale and other elite schools banished ROTC, and many in uniform still cannot forget that. I served as a Navy ROTC instructor for several years, and it was plain that the brass wanted little to do with those ivory tower snobs. A cease-fire is long overdue. What the military needs is more Ivy League caliber officers, not fewer. By discouraging graduates from serving in uniform, Yale is forfeiting an opportunity to effect real change in the military.

Every year the law school sends some of its brightest graduates to work in the Justice Department and the State Department. Yale certainly doesn't endorse every practice of those organizations, but it understands that by working with them it is much more likely to influence their policies for the better.

With the Defense Department, however, there appears to be a different standard. Imagine if America's elite universities had obstructed recruiting efforts during World War II. God knows there were decent reasons then. Just consider the appalling treatment of blacks in uniform. But Yale and others sent their best to fight and, in doing so, helped improve the character of our armed forces.

Two great and noble institutions will soon carry their fight to the nation's highest court. Whose ever argument prevails that day, nobody really wins this one. The military may get full access to Yale students, but its discriminatory policy will continue to prevent some great lawyers from serving. Yale may get to stiff-arm the military, but it will forfeit the opportunity to effect real change. As proud as I am to be part of both Yale and the military, about this battle I feel mostly shame.

NORRIS: Ken Harbaugh is a former Navy pilot and a student at Yale Law School.

This is NPR, National Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.