Thursday, November 10, 2005

Finding Common Ground

(Good Grief is it November already????)

Last night I attended a forum on campus about the Solomon Amendment. I didn't know much of anything about this Amendment other than it had something to do with allowing military recruiters onto college campuses or face the threat of losing federal funding.

The forum was held by the University Faculty Senate (of which I am a member, and hence felt some obligation to attend). The speakers included a professor from the Criminal Justice school, a representative of the College Republicans and a representative of an organization called Campus Action that has been actively protesting military recruitment on the University at Albany campus.

The grounds for the protest, by the way, are because the military is a discriminatory agency. Alongside recruiting men and women to kill other men and women (which might be grounds enough for protest), the military discriminates against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people. Universities generally require prospective employers who recruit on college campuses to sign a statement that they do not engage in discriminatory hiring practices. Obviously, the military cannot sign such a petition, but the federal government requires Universities give them access anyway.

The way out of this for colleges is to stop taking federal funds, which largely come from research grants faculty receive from the government. Such funds can comprise as much as 20% of a university's budget. In short, there's not a snowball's chance in hell colleges are going to refuse federal funds to stop military recruitment on campus.

The case will be heard by the Supreme Court on December 6. The Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, an association of 38 law schools, sued Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on First Amendment grounds. They argued successfully before the 3rd District Court of Appeals that the federal requirement violates universities and schools first amendment right to free speech when it requires them to contribute resources and personnel to an employer with which they disagree. Rumsfeld and the DOD appealed, and it is now before the Supreme beings.

All of this is to say that the Republican student representative and the Campus Action representative exchanged some heated words with their opponents in the audience. At times the statements were hyperbolic and derogatory of the other side (statements of the other side being "crazy," "homophobic" supporting slavery, against the working class). I was anxious at times by the high level of antagonistic discussion.

But, the one issue upon which all sides seemed to agree on was that at least they were not apathetic. No matter what side the students fell on, they found common ground in their activism.

College should be where political beliefs take root. For too many years I've encountered highly apathetic students. The exchanges last night, heated and aggressive as they were, gave me some clear evidence that political activism is not dead on college campuses. I found that heartening.

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