ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Harvard Plays It Safe

September 22, 2005 by ACTA

Yesterday, Harvard University joined Columbia, Cornell, NYU, Yale, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania in filing an amicus brief opposing the Solomon Amendment, which stipulates that federal funding will be withheld from schools that bar military recruiters from their campuses. A separate group of Harvard law professors also filed a brief. But as the Supreme Court prepares to hear Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, and as the Pentagon issues warnings to law schools that continue to bar military recruiters because they find the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy to be discriminatory, Harvard is playing both sides of the street.

Last year, after the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals found for a group of law schools that had sought to overturn the law on First Amendment grounds, Harvard barred military recruiters, and still collected hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money. This year, in response to a warning from the Pentagon that despite the 3rd Circuit ruling, the Solomon Amendment would be enforced, Harvard is allowing military recruiters on campus after all. In a letter sent to all law students Tuesday, Harvard law dean Elena Kagan explained that the university simply could not afford to lose its federal funding. About 15% of Harvard's annual budget comes from government money, much of it going to the medical school and the school of public health.

Harvard's decision speaks to the extraordinarily high stakes of the upcoming Supreme Court case. The brief Harvard filed yesterday in coordination with a group of like-minded elite schools states this explicitly, noting that "modern research universities" can't simply decide not to accept federal funds without also making profound alterations to the shape and significance of higher education: "Universities cannot decline federal funding without fundamentally altering their character and dismantling a significant component of the nation's research and development infrastructure." Harvard's decision also speaks to one of the defining ironies of this country's higher education system. Private colleges and universities are typically held to be exempt from the kinds of constitutional requirements that public colleges and universities, as government-funded entities, must uphold; they have no obligation to respect First Amendment rights, for example, and can make their own choices about whether to discriminate on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, and so on. The rationale for this is that these schools are not government-funded entities. But the "privacy" of those colleges is in a very real way illusory; as Harvard is currently acknowledging, even the most well-heeled private institutions in the country are profoundly dependent on government dollars to stay afloat.

The fight about the Solomon Amendment is not simply a fight about what is and is not discrimination and what is and is not free expression. It is also a fight about what kinds of obligations schools incur when they accept federal funds, and about whether those obligations can trump an individual school's procedural autonomy. That in turn is a fight about the future character of higher education itself.

Comments

Leave a Comment >

There are no comments for this article yet.

Let us know what you are thinking

FEATURED TOPICS

ACTA's take on:

News Roundup

The Consequences of the Government Shutdown for Higher Ed

Chronicle of Higher Education, Lindsay Ellis and Lily Jackson 

College Bloat Meets ‘The Blade’

Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajan

College Trustees Must Protect Free Speech

Chronicle of Higher Education, Keith E. Whittington

Donations Keep Iowa Wesleyan Afloat

Education Dive, Natalie Schwartz

Signup to Receive ACTA’s Quarterly
Newsletter & Email Updates


Include information for trustees.

Search