The U.S. House moved Tuesday to deny defense-related funding to universities that don't provide ROTC programs and military recruiters equal access to their campuses because of the armed services' antigay policies. Opponents said the bill is an assault on university policies banning discrimination against gays. Under the legislation, passed 343-81, universities would have to give military recruiters access to campus and to students that is equal in quality and scope as that provided to other employers. It also requires that colleges with ROTC programs submit an annual report to the secretary of Defense confirming they will continue to support those programs.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), expands on a 1995 law denying Pentagon funds to universities that prohibit military recruiters access to campuses. That law, named after the late representative Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.), was later revised to withhold Pentagon funding for "anti-ROTC" policies and to add other agencies with national security and homeland security programs to the list of those that may deny grants to colleges. Rogers's bill would add to that list the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Energy Department.
Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and a Harvard graduate, said the legislation "might just as well be called the 'Harvard Act' because it squarely addresses the scandal of Harvard University and other schools banishing ROTC and military recruiters from campus while turning around and cashing Uncle Sam's checks for billions of dollars each year." He said Harvard, like other campuses around the country, banished ROTC during the Vietnam War era. A statement issued by a Harvard spokesperson noted that "military recruiters have direct access to our students on the Harvard campus, consistent with the law. In addition, Harvard students continue to participate in ROTC programs down the street at MIT, through a cooperative arrangement among several universities."
Critics of the legislation, which still must be considered by the Senate, said it penalizes those institutions that restrict groups, including the military, that don't offer equal opportunities to gays and lesbians. "It's designed to force universities to violate their own policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," said Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.). They also questioned giving the secretary of Defense the authority to determine whether a college is providing equal access. The secretary, said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), serves as prosecutor, judge, and jury without an independent or neutral arbiter.
House speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said the bill is important because in a time of war, the military needs access to the best and brightest minds in the country. He noted that recruiters at some universities "are isolated to completely separate parts of the campus away from the career fairs" or not
allowed at all. Rogers said his bill grew out of a November decision by the U.S. district court in New Jersey that rejected the claims of a group of law schools that the Solomon Law was unconstitutional but also found that the law nowhere states that military recruiters must be given the same degree of access as provided to other employers.