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ROTC, Gays, and the Solomon Amendment

There was a bizarre moment in the Democrats' Nevada debate, in which Tim Russert asked all three candidates if they would enforece legislation that's been on the books for years depriving funding to academic institutions that don't support ROTC programs. … Read More

By / January 15, 2008

There was a bizarre moment in the Democrats' Nevada debate, in which Tim Russert asked all three candidates if they would enforece legislation that's been on the books for years depriving funding to academic institutions that don't support ROTC programs. And who could be against that? So all three candidates, predictably, answered yes.

Neither Russert nor anyone else at the debate even hinted at the subtext to this question, namely, the reason that many schools, including essentially every prestigious school in the country, do not have ROTC programs, is the prohibition on gays serving openly in the military. The original incarnation of the legislation Russert mentioned, the Solomon amendment of 1996, merely blocked federal funding to any sub-element of a university that disallowed ROTC or military recruitment, and only to such a sub-element. So Yale Law School, for example, could have lost funding if it chose not to allow military recruiters access to its careers website. But the Yale chemistry department, where a lot of important cancer research goes on, which relies heavily on government grants, and which has nothing to do with military recruitment, would not suffer.

After George W. Bush came to office in 2001 with two houses of Congress in Republican control, the Solomon amendment was revised so that an entire university would be deprived of all federal funding if any sub-element within it did not acquiesce to military recruitment. Both the intent and the effect was to blackmail law schools. The upshot is an absurd game of chicken, with the federal government prioritizing Don't Ask Don't Tell over both national security — dismissal of, say, gay linguists makes us objectively less safe — and important scientific research.

That's what the Democratic candidates just signed onto.     

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