The GW Law School joined a coalition this week of professors and law schools suing the U.S. Defense Department for allegedly discriminating against gays.
While law professors voted last month to become a member of the coalition – the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights – the Law School’s membership became official this week when Dean Michael Young sent the necessary forms to the organization.
FAIR filed suit against the Pentagon in U.S. District Court in September, claiming the Solomon Amendment, which withholds federal funding from universities that do not allow the military to recruit on campus, is unconstitutional.
At issue is the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which punishes servicemen and women for making their homosexuality known.
In 1992, GW adopted a non-discrimination policy toward gays, and several law school faculty members said the Solomon Amendment forces universities to undermine their policy.
“Allowing the military to recruit on campus despite their discriminatory polices makes it appear as if money is more important that values,” said associate professor Joan Schaffner, one of FAIR’s strongest on-campus supporters. “We’re basically aiding and abetting discrimination at our school.”
Other professors agreed that joining the coalition makes an important statement.
“GW has a discrimination policy which we live by in every aspect of life. There’s only one case where we don’t live by our own policy, and that reason is two words – the Solomon Amendment,” professor Roger Schechter said.
FAIR President Kent Greenfield, a Boston College law professor, commended GW’s decision to join the coalition.
“There are few things that would be more supportive of gay and lesbian students than joining FAIR,” Greenfield said.
Young, who sent a letter to faculty members Tuesday informing them of the Law School’s membership in FAIR, said he was merely affirming the faculty’s decision to join.
“The faculty made the decision to join so we joined,” Young said.
During a discussion about whether to join FAIR last month, Young said joining the coalition would be “irresponsible” and “very problematic.” He declined to discuss his reservations about joining FAIR in an interview Wednesday.
Being a member of FAIR does not require the Law School to contribute money or other resources, according to a faculty study released last month. FAIR’s suit is being handled pro bono by the New York law firm Heller Ehrman, Greenfield said.
The Law School is one of only five FAIR members to make their affiliation with the organization public. Those who refuse to outwardly acknowledge their membership do so for fear of financial retaliation from the Pentagon, Greenfield said.
Young criticized law schools that do not make their affiliations public.
“I cannot understand why a law school does something in secret and private…it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said.
Greenfield cited GW’s willingness to outwardly join the coalition as a source of strength for the group.
“GW’s ability to step out in front of the issue will allow other members who have been in the coalition to feel more comfortable, stronger,” he said.
Not all professors placed the same importance on joining FAIR.
“I think joining FAIR is nothing more than a gesture,” said professor John Banzhaf. “GW joining the organization doesn’t in any way strengthen the lawsuit.”
-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.