Military e-mails conflict with U.’s nondiscrimination policy

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Hundreds of Brown undergraduates received e-mails from military recruiters last month because the University released student contact information to the Department of Defense.

A 1996 federal statute requires the Office of the Registrar – and similar offices at other universities – to provide military recruiters with student directory information, even though the University’s nondiscrimination policy bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy prohibits openly homosexual men and women from serving.

The federal law, known as the Solomon Amendment, permits the U.S. Secretary of Defense to deny federal funds – including research grants – to any high school or college that does not disclose students’ e-mail addresses, permanent and on-campus mailing addresses, home and campus phone numbers and college concentrations or majors.

“We have to comply with the federal law, even if it’s in conflict with our nondiscrimination policy,” said Michael Chapman, vice president for public affairs and University relations.

Senior Associate Registrar Robert Fitzgerald said his office gives student contact information only to the military, not to other organizations. Organizations wishing to formally recruit at Brown through the Career Development Center must sign a form that includes the University’s nondiscrimination policy, according to the CDC’s Web site.

“We’re required to give (military recruiters) what they ask for,” Fitzgerald said, noting that recruiters don’t always ask for all the information they are entitled to collect. He said some recruiters do not ask for concentrations, but “almost all of them request e-mail.” Recruiters request information for domestic undergraduates only – not foreign or graduate students.

Kent Greenfield ’84, a professor at Boston College Law School, led a legal challenge against the Solomon Amendment on behalf of several law schools, claiming it violated universities’ First Amendment rights. In March 2006, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against his organization, the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights.

Last week Greenfield said Brown and other institutions are obligated to cooperate with the military, though he still believes the legislation is unconstitutional.

“Any research institution worth its salt has to get federal funds,” he said, adding that forgoing federal money is “not really an option.”

In early January recruiters from at least two branches of the military – the Marine Corps and the Air Force – e-mailed form recruitment letters advertising officer training courses to Brown students.

A Jan. 9 e-mail from the Air Force touted a twelve-week-long basic officer training program, during which participants “will learn exactly what you’re made of and how committed you are to becoming the best.” Air Force Tech. Sgt. Larry Behrens Jr., a recruiter in Providence, sent the e-mail to a portion of his list of 5,408 Brown students – he sent out 1,800 e-mails, and roughly 900 bounced back.

Behrens said he might e-mail additional Brown students if the response from his initial e-mail is strong, but he will not send additional e-mails to students who did not respond to his first attempt.

“Awareness is the key,” he said.

Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Victor Zavala e-mailed Brown students a recruitment letter on Jan. 4 inviting Brown students to a six-week-long platoon leaders class. The e-mail declared: “You will come away from this training with valuable leadership skills that will set you apart from your peers at Brown.”

Zavala was out of his office and could not be reached for comment.

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