Middlebury’s Flawed Policy Regarding On-Campus Military Recruiting

Roman Graf, Associate Professor of German

On Wednesday, April 11, 2007, a significant group of faculty, staff, and students congregated in McCullough social space for a discussion of the recent homophobic epitaphs written on the walls of Ross Commons. President Liebowitz opened the meeting with a question: “Why here? What about our campus culture breeds an environment where acts of homophobia, misogyny, and intolerance can take place?”

As in all of the innumerable meetings I have attended at this institution where issues of diversity were discussed, people had the chance to vent their frustrations and offer possible explanations for the “issue” under consideration. As the meeting progressed, I found myself in yet another situation where the outcome was predictably twofold: the students affected by discrimination felt better about their lives at Middlebury and the administration conveyed the sense that it was going to do whatever necessary to rectify the problem. Both of these outcomes are, of course, illusory: students feel better, but their situation has not changed in the least, and the administration merely conveys a sense of action without actually having gone beyond a discussion of the problem. Nothing changes. Change is not the purpose of these meetings. If it were, they would be held with the “perpetrators” in the room.

Let me try to answer President Liebowitz’s question by analyzing our current policy for on-campus military recruiting. Quoting a friend of mine, Franci Kendall, who bases her sentiments on Suzanne Pharr’s Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, I contend that, “every system is exquisitely designed to produce the results it gets. To change the result you have to change the system.” Could it indeed be that the very foundations of our institution, its administrative structure, (including the trustees, its curriculum, its committees, its hiring practices, etc.) participate in or actually create the discrimination they claim to oppose?

If we consult our handbook, we find:

Policy for On- Campus Recruiting: The College’s protocol with regard to all employers who wish to recruit on campus is to ask that they sign a nondiscrimination agreement certifying that the opportunities they offer are available to all qualified Middlebury students, in keeping with our policy prohibiting discrimination ‘in admission or access to its educational or extracurricular programs, activities, or facilities, on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, marital status, place of birth, service in the armed forces of the United States, or against qualified individuals with disabilities on the basis of disability.'”

This is an excellent, very progressive nondiscrimination statement guaranteeing every student on campus equal opportunities. However, if we continue to read, these guarantees evaporate in front of our eyes.

Also from the handbook: “If an employer other than a recruiter for a branch of the U.S. military is unable to sign this agreement, we allow them to recruit only on the condition that they hold an open meeting, advertised to the entire campus community, at which they must provide information on their organization’s recruitment practices and explain their specific policies.”

Consequently, if I am an employer that discriminates against any of the above-mentioned groups, all I have to do is say so in an open forum and I can continue with my discriminatory practices. Not only can I continue my discrimination in my organization, but also Middlebury College sanctions said discrimination by allowing me to show prejudice in my hiring practices on Middlebury’s campus. It is quite astounding how the words in the nondiscrimination statement remain just that— words. They have no relevance in the real world because once confronted with reality— the discriminatory practices of an employer— they cease to matter. Discrimination continues.

We are sending the message to our students that in the academic environment of Middlebury College, what we discuss, deliberate, and learn— in short, the academic mission of the college— is separate from the “real” world. It is an academic exercise unrelated to the well being of real people. As a student expressed at Wednesday’s meeting, we support our students who strive for good grades at the expense of their contemplating the effects of their education on themselves and others. We separate intellectual pursuit from personal growth, intellect from emotion, and the ideal from the real. With policies such as the one above, we fail to “cultivate the intellectual, creative, physical, ethical, and social qualities essential for leadership in a rapidly changing global community.” (Middlebury College Mission Statement)

The recruiting statement gained importance two years ago when the military, an openly discriminatory, homophobic institution, wanted to recruit on Middlebury College’s campus. Under the rules of our handbook, at that time members of the military could recruit after openly declaring their discriminatory practices. And for the first time, they did. They moved the actual signing of interested people from the town of Middlebury to the campus of Middlebury College. However, this incident created such turmoil on campus that the community held various meetings to deliberate whether an openly homophobic employer should be able to recruit at Middlebury, or whether we should change our recruiting policy to demonstrate and uphold our opposition to homophobia. Every committee on campus, from faculty council to staff council to the SGA to the faculty, urged President Liebowitz to reconsider the policy. One might think that once confronted with such an overwhelming groundswell of support for the change and outrage against homophobia, Liebowitz would agree to adjust the recruiting policy. He did not. At least not in favor of the people that remain subjected to discrimination. With what, in my opinion, constituted a slap in the face of every queer person on campus, President Liebowitz decided against opposing homophobia. This also supported waiting for the national debate concerning the Solomon amendment to come to a close through a verdict by the U.S. Supreme Court. Introduced by Donald Rumsfeld, the Solomon Amendment forces institutions of higher education that receive federal funding to allow the armed forces to recruit on their campuses. Since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Solomon amendment, our recruiting policy has been revised and now reads:

“If a recruiter for a branch of the U.S. military is unable to sign the nondiscrimination agreement, the College requests that an open meeting be held as specified. The 2006 unanimous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Rumsfeld v. FAIR allows military recruiters on campus if colleges want to continue receiving federal money. At Middlebury the decision means that the College must permit recruiting by a branch of the military even if the recruiter refuses to provide an open informational meeting.”

Now the military does not even have to state its homophobia anymore. It can simply be homophobic. Furthermore, this phrasing pretends that the College has no choice but to succumb to the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the College were willing to give up its federal funds (student aid is exempt from the Solomon Amendment) and find ways to substitute for them, it could become a leader among institutions by significantly and actively opposing homophobia. Instead, we condone discrimination and void our nondiscrimination statement when it comes to recruiting on campus. What is the price for the rights of homosexuals at Middlebury College?

And we wonder why there is homophobic hate speech on campus? Homophobia and misogyny are intrinsic to the very nature of this institution.


1 Response to “Middlebury’s Flawed Policy Regarding On-Campus Military Recruiting”

  1. 1 Tristan Axelrod '08 May 12, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    “We are sending the message to our students that in the academic environment of Middlebury College, what we discuss, deliberate, and learn— in short, the academic mission of the college— is separate from the ‘real’ world.” Actually, the academic mission of the college says: “Through the pursuit of knowledge unconstrained by national or disciplinary boundaries, students who come to Middlebury learn to engage the world.” I always thought that meant the ‘real’ world. Where homophobia exists. And so does the need for compromise.

    It strikes me as absurdly difficult to create, even in rural Vermont, a utopia of tolerance when in reality prejudice exists everywhere. So I’m hardly swayed by the argument that Middlebury is institutionally homophobic. Perhaps if I was told how much money the college was receiving in federal grants that made it necessary or acceptable to host military recruiters, I would understand the decision better. Perhaps if I understood the decision-making process I would be further persuaded by your argument, but I tend to doubt the assertion that Ronald Liebowitz is solely and entirely responsible. If this is the main argument, the lack of research and explication in this article is deplorable.

    What I find least persuasive about this article are the unsubstantiated claims. For instance the final line, “homophobia and misogyny are intrinsic to the very nature of this institution.” If this was a research paper that I turned in, most professors would cross out the word ‘misogyny’ with a big red pen and lower my grade severely, because this article is about homophobia. Misogyny is not the topic; there is nothing to back up this claim.

    And how about this line: “Change is not the purpose of these meetings. If it were, they would be held with the “perpetrators” in the room.” I really wonder about this— is the author talking about institutional homophobia with reference to military recruiting, or vandalism? Because it strikes me that the college can’t do very much about homophobic vandalism, and that if the perpetrators were found they would indeed be sent for counseling and punished appropriately. Does the author dispute that? If this article is about institutional change, the blatantly unethical actions of anonymous criminals are entirely irrelevant. And what should the institution do about vandalism? The entire section of the article concerning these events and the consequent meetings does absolutely nothing to promote the author’s accusation.

    This article would not stand up in a sixth grade classroom, and that’s unfortunate because I tend to agree with the author some of the time. Ultimately, however, I expect more from a member of the Middlebury faculty.

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