North Wind And Sun

Military Will Recruit on Campus Thursday

For the first time since 1987, the College will welcome the military to recruit on campus tomorrow. A recruiter from the United States Navy will address interested students in the Career Center at 7 p.m. and table in the Keefe Campus Center around noon.

In anticipation of the controversial visit, Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought Martha Umphrey held a discussion yesterday in Pruyne Lecture Hall on the implications of the visiting recruiter, focusing on the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that discriminates against homosexuals.

Before 1993, Umphrey explained at the start of her talk, gays faced complete prohibition from the military. However, President Bill Clinton promised in his presidential campaign to fight to eliminate the ban, “[likening] it to racial segregation of the military.” When he issued an executive order to lift the ban, he was met with fierce opposition. The argument in support of discriminatory policy towards gays in the military, summarized Umphrey, centers around the belief that “having openly gay people serve in the military … will undermine the military’s ability because heterosexuals would be unwilling to serve with them, it would undermine unit cohesion.”

As a sort of compromise, General Colin Powell envisaged the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that, according to Umphrey, “prohibits anyone who demonstrates … a propensity or willingness to engage in military activity.” Umphrey explained that the policy is also sometimes called, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.” If homosexuals want to serve in the military, they should not disclose their sexuality, nor are they allowed to exhibit any homosexual inclinations or activity once enlisted. Any such “propensity” provides grounds for dismissal. The military cannot actively seek to purge itself of homosexuals. Rather, the policy states there must be clear self-surfacing evidence. “Although [the new policy] was a shift,” Umphrey said, “it was not necessarily an improvement.”

As the policy is discriminatory by nature and contradicts many institutions’ non-discrimination codes, many colleges and universities around the country have resisted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Amherst College generated a policy of its own: Recruiters who wanted to visit the College were required to sign a form designating whether or not their organization assented to the College’s anti-discrimination policy. The recruiters were then invited to attend a discussion where they would explain their organization’s stance on their policy.

But in 2006, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the Solomon Amendment that mandated that colleges and universities that denied Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) or military recruiters fair access to students on their campuses would risk being stripped of their federal funding. As a result, educational institutions have been forced to weigh their ability to conduct scientific research against their views on discrimination. Creating barriers to recruitment now illegal, the College still requests military recruiters explain its policies, but cannot bar or hinder its entry in any way. In addition, the Solomon Amendment requires the College to provide recruiters with information pertaining to students.

The military’s interest in the College might surprise some. Associate Dean of Students and Associate Director of the Career Center Carolyn Bassett noted that there has been very little history of Amherst College student involvement in the military. “Historically,” Bassett said, “there has been very little interest in military careers for Amherst students.”

Nonetheless, the military still views the College as a prime source for new recruits. Bassett is not surprised. “The military right now is like a company that needs new employees,” she said. “And like any company, they want the best of the best. That is why they come here.”

Bassett also alluded to another potential draw of students to the military — money. “Many students at Amherst go on to graduate school,” Bassett said, “and many of these students need money to go to graduate school. The military knows that this is a big draw for students.”

-Josh Glasser contributed

(Originally Published 20 February 2008 in The Amherst Student)

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