Is there discrimination at our university? According to the Chicago Maroon, there is whenever recruiters from the U.S. military come to campus. In an editorial published last Friday, this paper used an argument over federal funding to attack the military for its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and hinted that it should be banned from campus.
The argument in question is whether universities, without risking the loss of federal funding, have the right to prohibit the armed forces from recruiting on campus when certain military policies, such as the ban on gays serving openly, conflict with university anti-discrimination policies. The Maroon wholeheartedly embraced this prohibition, agreeing that the military should drop its homosexual ban if it wants to be on campus.
Unfortunately, this is a misleading argument. Even if the armed forces admitted openly gay individuals, they still do not allow foreigners to serve unless they have a green card and a permanent residence here, because all officers must be bona-fide citizens. There are also age limits for enlistment and standards on physical fitness, including a prohibition on most physical and emotional disabilities. All of these prohibitions similarly violate this university’s nondiscrimination policies.
The irony of this controversy is that there is discrimination happening at our university. But it’s not directed at gays. Rather, it’s directed at the students on this campus who want to serve in the armed forces. So, let’s stop pretending that this is about the government forcing universities to discriminate against the less fortunate. Instead, let’s talk about whether we want University of Chicago students serving in the military.
I must confess that I’m not an impartial observer. During my second year, I enrolled in the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program at this university before eventually dropping out of it. From my own experience, I know it’s a thankless task to be a Chicago cadet.
Because the Army considered this university to be unfriendly, it would not conduct classes or hold physical training on campus. This meant that my fellow cadets and I had to drive about 20 minutes to the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois, Chicago several days a week, usually at 6 a.m. Needless to say, juggling this with three to four classes here was incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Not surprisingly, not one of the Chicago cadets who started with me that year was able to finish the year in the Army either.
What the Maroon calls the “promotion of social justice” amounts to discrimination against students trying to join the military. Prohibiting recruiters amounts to a de facto ban on a military presence on campus. That’s an almost insurmountable hurdle to most students interested in military service. In the face of this overwhelming discrimination, the Marine Corps PLC program may be the only program able to attract a steady supply of recruits from Chicago. Semper Fi!
Unfortunately, they are a minority within a minority. By keeping the military at an arm’s length, many of us who want to serve are forced to choose between an education and service to our country.
Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark recently said, “For citizens in a democracy the highest form of patriotism is asking questions.” This is a high form of patriotism, but not the highest. To have a democracy, you must be able to protect that democracy. Like it or not, our basic freedoms are protected by those citizens who have made a commitment to a hard and dangerous life in the military.
So regardless of what your constitutionally protected views on military recruitment are, it’s important to remember that our Constitution alone cannot defend those views. Without an army of willing soldiers, the Constitution is just a piece of paper.
Is it possible to oppose the military over its policy towards gays? Of course. But that doesn’t mean we should penalize those students who are willing to serve our country, just because we disagree with the values of the Pentagon. It takes a special kind of person to serve his country under arms, with the understanding that someday he or she may be called upon to die for your freedom. That should be encouraged on our campus, not discouraged.