As any good tactician will attest, what appears to be a defeat can sometimes be a victory.
The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously this month that the federal government has the right to withhold funding from universities that bar military recruiters from their campuses. This decision was widely regarded as a setback for those fighting against the U.S. military's unconscionable "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But Columbia, along with other top American universities, should take this as an opportunity to become a positive force for change by taking a more constructive stance toward the military.
Columbia filed a brief in the case arguing against the law that ties federal funding to allowing military recruitment. The major criticism of the law is that, because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, allowing military recruiters on campus (primarily at law schools) violates nondiscrimination policies. Although Columbia has suspended its nondiscrimination policy to allow military recruiters to continue to operate at Columbia Law School, the University-and many other universities-had hoped to uphold the legal right of a school to express opposition to the policy by barring recruiters. Though the court ruled that universities do not have this right, there are much better ways to work toward change in the military.
As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, universities are still free to protest "don't ask, don't tell" with speeches, signs, and actual protests. Now that it is clear that barring recruiters is not an option, Columbia's administration and students should exercise that freedom of speech. Universities have been working hard to promote the symbolic speech of barring recruiters, while real voices have remained fairly quiet. Pretending the military doesn't exist won't solve the problem, but constructive criticism might.
In the long run, this ruling may actually be a boon for those who want fairness in the military. After all, the U.S. military used to discriminate on the basis of race as well. But as minorities continued to enlist, opinion began to shift, and the military integrated long before the major civil rights laws were passed. Getting as many liberal-minded Columbia lawyers as possible, both gay and straight, into the military's judge advocate general corps would be one of the best ways to turn the tide against "don't ask, don't tell." Discouraging them from joining is counterproductive.
In this case, the Supreme Court was not considering the portion of the law dealing with ROTC. But the same thinking should apply there. Shunting ROTC off to Fordham is a great symbolic way to protest the military's policies, but it does very little to accomplish real progress. Increasing Columbia's involvement with the military through recruiting and ROTC might rankle some, but it would be the best way for Columbians to work for justice.