By Seth Stern writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
Some of America's top law schools are heading to court themselves. Their target: a Pentagon policy requiring them to allow military recruiters on campus. At issue is the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy towards gays and whether the government should be able to force schools to disseminate a message they dislike.
Separate suits filed by law schools, professors, and students this fall charge the Pentagon with forcing them to violate anti- discrimination rules by demanding access to campuses. Those schools that refuse risk losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.
Such big-name law schools as Yale and the University of Pennsylvania are on the front lines against the "don't ask, don't tell" edict. But many others have opted to stay on the sidelines - skittish about losing funding or appearing antimilitary during wartime - showing the limits of university protest today.
The controversy has been brewing for a decade at law schools, which long ago adopted stricter antidiscrimination rules than the universities that house them. As a result, when the military codified its policy restricting openly gay service members during the Clinton administration, law schools began limiting recruiters' access to their buildings and career-services offices.
For years, the Pentagon threatened to cut off funds to noncomplying law schools - including financial aid. The standoff grew testier after President Bush took office. The Defense Department mailed law schools a letter demanding the same access provided to other employers.
Combined with a threat to cut off funding for the entire university - not just the law school - almost every school relented. Those continuing to bar access are independent law schools, like William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., which receive no federal funds. "If the military recruiters will sign the nondiscrimination statement we require every employer to sign, they're welcome," says William Mitchell's dean, Harry Haynsworth.
This fall, military recruiters interviewed law students on at least two dozen campuses. The Defense Department says it needs campus recruiting to hire some of the 300 new attorneys needed to man what's essentially one of the nation's largest law firms - inside the Pentagon.
In requiring equal access to law schools, the Defense Department says it's following federal law. "The actions are based entirely on procedures set forth in Federal statutes . …