November 2007

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The Marines came to campus to recruit on November 13. The visit and the protest that ensued were covered in The Campus newspaper, but even with the extensive coverage, there remain some fundamental issues about recruiting on our campus that seem to get lost whenever the issue comes up, as it has with the Marines’ recent visit.

I should mention that I shared with the campus community in September my position in formulating the College’s policy regarding military recruiting in a detailed memorandum. That said, I will highlight here some areas of controversy, offer my position once again, and hopefully generate some discussion for us all to consider.

It is central to point out that the College has a very clear and strong non-discrimination policy that guides its hiring practices and its engagement with and treatment of Middlebury employees. In addition, it was also one of the first colleges/universities to offer the equivalent of spousal benefits to the partners of gays and lesbians who worked at the College.

Allowing the military to recruit on our campus became an issue when, in 2005, we learned that the Marines wished to come to campus to recruit for the first time in many years. College policy at that time was to require all potential employers who could not sign a statement saying that its policies were consistent with the College’s own non-discrimination policy to hold an open meeting at which they would explain their hiring practices and policies. Since 1993, when Congress set the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy for gays in the military, the armed forces argued that they allowed gays and lesbians to serve, but that they “would discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct, which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender” (from the New York Times, April 1993).

The College’s requirement that employers who did not adhere themselves to the College’s non-discrimination policy hold open meetings served to keep the military away from campus, as it did at other liberal arts colleges with similar policies. Yet in 2005, the Marines were invited to campus by two seniors who were to be commissioned into the Marines during their Commencement week, and hence the first visit in years.

For the 2005 Marine visit to campus, College policy was followed as our Career Services Office required that the Marines hold an open meeting if they were to recruit at Middlebury, and the meeting took place. Prior to the Marines’ visit to campus, a group of law schools challenged a federal law, known as the Solomon Amendment, that linked a college’s or university’s receipt of some categories of federal funding to the ability of the military to recruit on campus. At the same time, a faculty resolution here at Middlebury, which requested that the College not allow the military to recruit on campus at all, was introduced at a faculty meeting, and the resolution passed by nearly a 3-1 measure. Some faculty were wary of banning the military if it meant federal funding for their research would be jeopardized; a much smaller number thought it wrong to ban the military from campus for a variety of reasons; but the largest number favored preventing the military from recruiting on campus and using College facilities if it could not ensure that all Middlebury students had the opportunity for employment.

Following the faculty resolution, I engaged many individuals, both on campus and off, including former military officers, scholars of military history, experts on public policy, and other college presidents. I decided it would be best not to change our policy, and to await the challenge to the Solomon Amendment, which was heading to the Supreme Court following an appellate court ruling after the challenge from the law schools.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously (9-0) that the Solomon Amendment was constitutional—that federal funding could be withheld if colleges did not provide “equal” access to military recruiters. Moreover, it meant that our existing policy of “requiring” an open meeting was not in compliance with the law, which the Supreme Court had just affirmed. To require such a meeting would be in violation of the Solomon Amendment. We amended our policy so we now “request” an open meeting, but the military is not obligated to provide that open forum in order to come and recruit.

Fast forward to last week. The Marines, as I mentioned, came and set up an information desk near Ross Dining Hall. Many on campus believe we should have changed our policy and not permitted the military to recruit on campus since our gay and lesbian students, should they choose a career in the military, would have to hide their sexuality, and face expulsion from the service if it became known they were gay or lesbian. Some argue that the College is “hypocritical” in allowing the military on campus since the military’s employment policies and practices are not consistent with our own.

I agree with the November 13th protesters, in that I strongly support the rights of gay and lesbian members of our community. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is neither a fair nor smart policy; gays and lesbians have proven to be exceptional members of other countries’ armed forces, and the current loss of expertise as a result of DADT is unquestionably great. And there is no logical reason to deny gay and lesbians Americans the right to defend this country. At the same time, I don’t believe the proper response is to ban the military from recruiting on our campus as the protesters have requested.

First, the conflating of our clearly stated policies on non-discrimination with the military’s policy is illogical. Arguing that because we allow the military on campus we compromise our own policies is incorrect; we continue to follow our policies and we remain committed to them. In fact, as Justice Breyer argued in oral argument in the case, the remedy to speech [or ideas] with which one disagrees is more speech, not a restriction on speech. Bryer’s argument is consistent with our mission as a liberal arts college, which is to encourage the engagement of different points of view, not limit such discussion.

Second, the armed forces are not any random potential employer seeking to enlist young talent into their ranks. They are part of our federal government; those in uniform are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our collective security and freedom; and Congress, not the military branches, is responsible for the policy that discriminates against gays and lesbians, and so that it, and not the military, ought to be the target for changing policy.

Third, disobeying the law, and in the process losing federal funding, would have multiple effects on the College. It would compromise some programs, including those that support student loans, College facilities, and scientific research. It would make us look irresponsible in light of what we charge students to attend Middlebury, at a time when financial support from alumni and friends is so vital to the College’s mission. In accepting federal funds, we are not denied the right to oppose DADT, which, as an institution, we do.

And fourth, while I, and according to most polls the majority of Americans, oppose the DADT policy, the impact of preventing recruiting on campuses like Middlebury is likely to widen the divide between civilians and the military. It would also contribute to the sense of elitism that surrounds campuses like ours and accentuate an already class-based division in our armed forces. The less educated and less well-off socioeconomic groups are widely overrepresented in our volunteer military service branches and therefore suffer the disproportionate casualties defending our country and its interests. The successful recruitment of students from places like Middlebury would bring values to the armed forces that are more likely to generate pressure on Congress to change DADT from within. Preventing the recruiting of these voices, in the long-term, will prove to be counter-productive.

Those of us who are opposed to DADT should lobby our elected officials to overturn it, both here in Vermont and in our home states. We should also work with the many public advocacy groups that are fighting to change DADT. This course of action, rather than banning the military from recruiting on our campuses, would go a lot farther in changing what so many find problematic about military recruiting.

We will have an open forum to discuss this issue in McCullough social space on Monday, November 26 at 4:15 p.m.

Your thoughts on the subject?

Last week I attended a great event in downtown Middlebury, just yards from where the recent train derailment brought the town front and center on CNN—until the California fires raged and caught the public’s attention and great concern.

The event was the groundbreaking for the last phase of the Town Hall Theater project, a project that, when complete, will provide the town with a remarkable theater and public space in a building that was constructed in 1883 at the juncture of Merchants Row and Cross Street. The decade-long project, led so ably and enthusiastically by Doug Anderson, and supported by many in the local community, is critically important to our small town. It will provide a home for local theater, for a wide range of productions, for student groups to perform in town, and to strengthen the town’s civic culture.

The College supported this project early on, and weeks ago agreed to provide $1 million in additional support to allow for the final phase of the project to move forward, and for the theater to open by this coming June or July. Our support is in the form of a partnership. College students, faculty, and staff will be able to use Town Hall Theater facilities, students will obtain internship opportunities at the Theater, our Language Schools, so short on performance space on campus, will have use of the facilities for parts of the summer, and the Theater’s presence will have a positive economic impact on the town. Just as the town’s and College’s histories are so intertwined, so, too, are their futures, and I believe it is in the College’s best interest to contribute to the town’s vitality through this project.

Though the presence of Middlebury students in the local community, not to mention faculty and staff, is already quite significant, this project will diversity the kind of interaction our students have with the town. So many students now volunteer in the county across a wide range of volunteer programs or through “service learning” segments of their courses. Our Alliance for Civic Engagement (“ACE”), a vital hub of activity in McCullough Hall led so energetically by Tiffany Sargent, provides a remarkable array of opportunities for students to “do good” in the local community. In addition, a great number of our varsity athletes, encouraged by their coaches, mentor students in local elementary and secondary schools throughout Addison County.

Townspeople who work with our students and/or are the recipients of their volunteerism recognize and appreciate the strength and power of town/gown relations, but many, unfortunately, do not. Through the Town Hall Theater project, plus other collaborative projects we will develop with partners in town, the benefits of town and gown working together will be both enjoyed and recognized by a greater number within the Addison County community.

Perhaps most importantly, the Town Hall Theater and its anticipated full slate of performances will bring townspeople within Middlebury together on a noticeable and significant scale. Our town is not immune to the trends seen in many small, rural towns, which include the weakening of civic culture. The sentiment that “the College should stay up on the hill,” something one can still hear at Town meeting and in other public venues, must give way to a spirit of collaboration and mutual appreciation. I believe the Town Hall Theater project embodies this kind of spirit and it is overdue.

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