Vermont Law, long a holdout, lifting military ban

By Dave Gram

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 4 2011 10:10 a.m. MDT

SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. — When military recruiters begin arriving this month for the first time in more than a decade at Vermont Law School, it will have a special meaning for Alex Manning.

Manning, a lesbian, graduated from the law school in 2006, 17 years after she was discharged from the Army for a "failure to adapt to military standards."

She was serving as a private at Fort Lewis, Wash., when she went to a farewell dinner for a friend who was being discharged for being a lesbian, and then out with a group to a gay bar. The investigation started soon after.

"It had the flavor of a witch hunt," she said, adding that she soon followed her friend in being expelled from the service. In the days before the Clinton administration created "don't ask, don't tell," she said, the policy was, "We asked. You lied. You're out of here."

Manning, now 42, went on to a career in law enforcement, working as a drug detective for the Georgia Bureau of Investigations in her native state, as well as other agencies.

Last week, she traveled north from Atlanta, where she practices family and criminal law, to attend a ceremony at Vermont Law marking the end of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy — and the end of a ban on military recruiters by the small, unaffiliated law school.

The ban wasn't a 1970s-style protest against U.S. military involvements, the school says.

"We had a non-discrimination policy in place that includes the idea that no employer can be allowed on campus who's going to discriminate against our students based on their membership in a protected class," said Jackie Gardina, a professor at the school who was active in a national group that fought to overturn the military policy.

Professor Kinvin Wroth, a former dean of the 650-student law school, said its policy barring military recruiters dated from the mid-1980s, years before the Clinton administration adopted the policy that became known as "don't ask, don't tell" in 1993.

In 1996, Congress passed an amendment cutting off federal aid, including financial aid, to schools that barred recruiters from campus. Wroth said the law school would have been devastated if its students had been denied access to federal loans and grants and changed its policy for a couple of years.

It later switched back to banning recruiters after Congress dropped student financial aid from the forms of federal assistance denied schools that barred recruiters. Since that 1999 decision, the school has forsaken an estimated $300,000 to $500,000 a year in other forms of federal help.

The William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota, like Vermont Law a small, independent school, also banned recruiters during the "don't ask, don't tell" era but is ending its policy with the federal repeal. It and Vermont Law were the only law schools in the country to stick with the ban. Others were affiliated with larger schools, which would have lost funding for a range of programs.

"It wasn't as if we were a medical school or a physics department that essentially depended for its continued funding streams" on the federal government, Wroth said. "Once federal (student) aid was out from under the thumb we were not under serious pressure."

Wroth argued that while the recruiter ban has drawn most of the attention, the law school's role as a national leader in the movement to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" may have been more effective. The school sponsored a student trip to Washington each spring, with students lobbying Congress to make the change.

Gardina wrote a white paper and later a law review article on the legal issues connected with "don't ask, don't tell." Wroth said when former Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke about the impending repeal in February, he used language strikingly similar to Gardina's.

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