It took more than 25 years, but Vermont Law School stuck to its guns: This afternoon, VLS announced that with the recent repeal of the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) policy, which bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces, VLS will notify the Pentagon that military recruiters from the Judge Advocate General's Corps are once again welcome on the South Royalton campus.
VLS's nondiscrimination policy, which has been in effect and remained unchanged since 1985, requires all employers who recruit on campus to affirm that they don't discriminate based on protected characteristics, including sexual orientation. VLS is one of only two law schools in the country that bars military recruiters from campus because of DADT — the other is William Mitchell College of Law, in St. Paul, Minn. VLS is the only law school that has largely forsaken federal grants — worth an estimated $500,000 per year — due to its adherence to its nondiscrimination policy.
Last December, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, legislation that repealed DADT. The policy was created by President Bill Clinton in 1993 as a compromise measure meant to make it easier for gays and lesbians to serve in the military. Since then, however, LGBT advocates around the country, including a number of VLS faculty, staff, students and trustees, have pushed to see the policy revoked.
Among them is VLS Professor Jackie Gardina, a former board member of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and president-elect of the Society of American Law Teachers. Gardina has called on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to halt all investigations and discharges under DADT while the repeal is being finalized.
“Many members of the VLS community, past and present, have contributed to the repeal of this discriminatory law. I am honored to be part of such a community," says Gardina, in a press statement. "The federal government, including the military, should be leaders when it comes to equality and nondiscrimination issues. To hold them to a lower standard than private employers would be wrong.”
In 1995, Congress adopted the Solomon Amendment to withhold some federal money from law schools and universities that do not give military recruiters the same access to campus as other employers. In 2000, the Defense Department announced that if any school or department of a university prohibited military recruiters, the entire university would be denied federal funding.
John Cramer, associate director of media relations at VLS, says the decision to welcome recruiters back to campus was made by the dean and president and didn't require a vote by trustees, faculty, staff or students. A letter to the Pentagon is being drafted "as we speak," Cramer reports.
Despite the obvious impediment to VLS students and grads who were interested in serving in the JAG, the military's judicial arm, Cramer says many such interviews took place at off-campus locations, including some at conference room at the Randolph National Bank.
"Students here remain interested in JAG, and I guess the school has a good reputation with [the U.S. military]," he says, adding that the number of VLS students who've gone on to intern at, or join, JAG is consistent with the national average.
Indeed, Cramer points out that the VLS policy barring the military from campus wasn't a universally popular one. Over the years, a small number of students, faculty and alumni felt it was "not wise" to exclude Pentagon recruiters, though the "overwhelming consensus" on campus has been to uphold VLS's stance against discriminatory behaviors.
Cramer also emphasizes that today's announcement doesn't constitute a "change of policy" on the part of the law school itself, but rather one on the part of the military and the U.S. government. "They finally bent to our will," he quips.