By A. Ivanhoe
The Western Front recently reported on a conflict at a Western career fair held earlier this quarter between career fair organizers and a group of student protesters, who were concerned about the presence of military recruiters at the fair.
In an e-mail to the AS Review, the fair’s demonstrators wrote to explain that they “were not there to make ‘anti-war’ or ‘anti-military’ statements.” Their primary concern, they said, is that military recruiters have not been honest with potential recruits.
“We are aware of the track record of deceit on the part of military recruiters and we know that they have incentives to be less than forthcoming with potential recruits,” they said.
A similar letter was published in a letter to the editor of the Western Front.
Western’s Career Services Center (CSC), which is responsible for organizing career fairs and coordinating with recruiters, is a member of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), an organization that sets out ethics principles for college recruiters. Recruiters are asked to abide by NACE’s principles.
According to these rules, a recruiter cannot, for example, pressure students into accepting a position within an unduly short period of time, misrepresent the job duties expected of prospective applicants or pressure students into turning down other job offers.
“If [students] have had a bad experience [with recruiters], we would like to hear about it,” CSC Associate Director for Operations Marcia Lewis said. The CSC does not eavesdrop on discussions between students and recruiters, so they rely on complaints from students to identify overly pushy recruiters.
When the CSC receives complaints about a recruiter, they try to meet with all the parties involved to resolve the issue, Lewis said. In a hypothetical situation where military recruiters at Western would repeat inappropriate recruiting practices, Lewis said that the CSC would contact the recruiters’ commanders until the problems were corrected.
The presence of military recruiters on university campuses has been a controversial issue that spans decades. The debate has ranged from the morality of militarism or a specific military operation to objections over the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a federal law which states that “a member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces … if … the member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act … has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual … [or] has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex.”
A federal law gives Western, and most universities in the United States, a choice: either allow military recruiters access to students and student information or lose most of its federal funding.
The law, commonly referred to as the Solomon Amendment, was written by former Republican U.S. Representative Gerald Solomon and signed into law in 1994 by former President Bill Clinton to respond to the barring of military recruiters from some law schools, who decided that “don’t ask, don’t tell” violated their nondiscrimination policies. The law penalizes institutions of higher education by blocking their federal funding if they prevent military recruiters from recruiting “in a manner that is at least equal in quality and scope to the access to campuses and to students that is provided to any other employer,” prevent the Senior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) from “establishing, or operating a unit … at that institution” or prevent military recruiters from accessing the names, addresses, telephone listings, birth dates, birthplaces, majors and degrees of its students who are 17 and older.
Exempted from the law are any federal financial aid allocated to educational institutions and any federal aid allocated to religious institutions of higher education that are “historically pacifist”.
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that the Solomon Amendment is constitutional.
The university relies on federal funds for many of its departmental research programs. For example, Western’s Border Policy Research Institute works with grants from the United States Department of Homeland Security in its research related to the Canada-United States border.
Whatever the likelihood that the university would be willing to give up this revenue stream, students who disagree with the presence of military recruiters have a constitutional right to protest during career fairs, but the university also has a responsibility to ensure that protesters are not violating the rights of others, according to Director of Viking Union Facilities Jim Schuster.
“The university has a right, according to the Supreme Court, to set ‘time, place and manner’ restrictions … to ensure that students are not unduly burdened by disruptions,” he said.
Protesters are asked to remain outside the room where the career fair takes place and refrain from blocking student traffic, yelling, using sound amplification systems like bullhorns or doing “anything that would violate someone’s rights,” but the Viking Union has made efforts to accommodate protesters, he said.
“This year, we set up an area to protest … and then we had the career fair posted with the Solomon [Amendment],” he said. “Our role is a balance between protecting everyone’s rights.”
In their letter to the AS Review, the protesters said they believe that their rights were violated when they were asked to leave by Campus Police because they do not believe they were disruptive.
“We stood well out of the way of the recruiters’ tables and did not interfere with any conversations that the recruiters were having,” they said.
The CSC organizes regular career fairs, which it advertises to employers through direct mail and electronic announcements, according to Diane Flores, CSC program coordinator for promotions and special events. The CSC has a database of all employers that have ever participated in a CSC-organized career fair and it sends announcements to all of them, including each branch of the armed services.
“We serve employers who are recruiting students with employers [as] part of helping students find employment after they graduate,” Lewis said.
“We try to find a balance of employers that we think students might be interested in,” Lewis said. “Our goal is to provide a variety of employers … including military, including businesses, including nonprofits.”
Flores emphasized that the United States Peace Corps is also invited to career fairs. The Peace Corps has a permanent recruiting office in Old Main and Western is one of the Peace Corps’s best recruiting grounds for campuses of similar size to Western, she said.
There are also noncombat opportunities with the armed services. “There are … civilian internship opportunities of interest to veterans” such as civilian jobs with the Navy, she said.
“There are students who are interested [in meeting military recruiters] and do support the military and those who are not,” she said.
AS ROP Veteran’s Outreach Center Coordinator Erik Hardwick said he believes the military should have equal opportunity to showcase their information at Western career fairs. Since other companies are able to offer their employment options to students, he said, military recruiters should also have the right to promote their career opportunities.
“It’s basic equality,” Hardwick said. “If you’re going to have other companies here, then the military should have the same access to show students what they can offer.”
Students have raised questions as to whether the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy violates the CSC’s own Recruitment Policies document.
“Discrimination on the [basis] of … sexual orientation … is prohibited and will not be tolerated,” the policy reads. “Employers must comply with Equal Employment Opportunity principles at all times.”
Lewis said that if Congress acted to remove the Solomon Amendment, the CSC could review its relationship with the military.
“That’s a good debate to have,” she said.