Academia vs. America

Posted: Mar 07, 2006 12:05 AM

Not just from Antonin Scalia, and not just from Clarence Thomas, rather, from a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court this week came the juicy rebuke to 36 law schools trying to bar military recruiters from their premises.
The learned justices put the matter more elegantly, not to mention circumspectly, but basically they said to the law schools and law profs demanding to keep our government's recruiters at bay: Can't you guys read? Or is it that you don't want to?

 The implications of the latter question lend poignancy to the case of Rumsfeld vs. Forum for Academic and Institutional Research (FAIR).

 The legal factories demanding the right to protect students from exposure to the idea of a career in military justice thumb their noses at Main Street America. The Supreme Court had to settle this thing? Why couldn't common sense, tinged with some latent affection for our country, have done the job? Because at too many institutions of higher wisdom, you prospect for weeks without striking a vein of common sense. Left wing ideology, though -- plenty of that.

 FAIR arose from the revulsion the American Association of Law Schools felt at the notion of seeming to endorse "antigay" discrimination by admitting military recruiters to their campuses. After all, the Clinton-era compromise on admission of gays to the military -- "don't ask, don't tell" -- fell short of according gays unquestioned access to military service. The law schools retaliated. You don't do it our way, they said to the military, you do it somewhere else.

 I pause for reflection on that one. The instrument of government, whose purpose is the defense of the nation, couldn't recruit law students inasmuch as law profs saw the military as an instrument of discrimination. Congress intervened via the Solomon Amendment, whose present form allows for the cutting off of federal funds to institutions guilty of trammeling military recruiters. FAIR objected that such a requirement interfered with its members' freedom of speech.

 Replied Chief Justice John Roberts, on behalf of a unanimous court (missing only Justice Samuel Alito, who had not yet been confirmed when the case was argued): "Nothing about recruiting suggests that law schools agree with every speech by recruiters, and nothing in the Solomon Amendment restricts what the law schools may say about the military policies."

  One might wonder -- as I do -- why our nation's highest court had to be asked anything so obvious as, "Are military recruiters entitled to reach U.S. college students on the same terms as nonmilitary recruiters?" What seems obvious to Main Street Americans isn't, alas, obvious to their intellectual establishment. A fair reading of FAIR's argument is that the military's needs don't rise to the level of gay law students' imputed need for affirmation by their military protectors -- according to the Constitution!

  Where this stuff comes from is a matter of conjecture. A strong, indeed, I think, decisive inference, is that our academic community has yet to recover from the Sixties -- probably because many of those who were the Sixties now preen in top academic offices, imposing on the younger generation the ideas they sought, 40 years ago, to impose on the older generation.

 It helps to recall what the Harvard faculty did to its president, Larry Summers, for wondering -- in the course of wondering about the paucity of women scientists -- whether women's minds are formed for science in the same way that men's minds are formed for it. Does anyone know the answer to that one? I think not. What brought the roof crashing down on Summers' head and contributed to his eventual demise as president, was his implication that the question of sex differences might be worth discussing. Egad! You might have thought he had proposed a School of Creationism Studies, with Pat Robertson as dean.

 Perhaps a few thousand retirements, or funerals, will take care of this particular problem eventually. And perhaps not. It's reassuring meanwhile, as per the Rumsfeld decision, to learn that academics can push illogic only so far, with any expectation of prevailing. You kind of take what you can get these days, don't you?