Kenyon College had little to lose when it closed its campus to military recruiters in 1992 to protest Pentagon rules barring homosexuals from the armed forces.
The small liberal arts college in Gambier, Ohio, was involved in no Pentagon research projects, so it felt no pinch when Congress voted in 1994 to deny military grants and contracts to colleges that barred recruiters.
Recruiting sergeants are back now, however, at Kenyon and scores of other campuses that once barred them. Congress quietly raised the ante last year for schools that kept out the recruiters: They could lose all their federal student aid.
“Eventually, the few remaining schools are going to get the message,” Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., instigator of the penalties, said at the time. Solomon, chairman of the House Rules Committee and an ex-Marine, also is the author of a 1982 law that denies student aid to young men who fail to register with the Selective Service System after turning 18, as they are required to do.
Kenyon had almost $250,000 at stake in subsidized loans, grants and workstudy funds.
“The impact the cuts would have had on our students was unthinkable,” said Donald J. Omahan, Kenyon’s dean of students.
Melissa Kravetz, 19, co-president of a Kenyon student group called Allied Sexual Orientations, called it “blackmail” but doesn’t fault the college for reversing its stand.
“We had to concede,” she said. “There was no other option.”
From a high of 138 campuses, only a handful of institutions are left where the Pentagon’s recruiters are not allowed.
The list has dwindled to a law school in St. Paul, Minn., and 17 colleges and trade schools in Connecticut, where schools can’t change anti-discrimination policies unless the Legislature in Hartford rewrites state law.
American University’s Washington College of Law in Washington was also on the Pentagon’s list, but it notified the Pentagon just last week that the recruiters are welcome again.
The law school did an about-face after attorneys decided that aid to American’s undergraduates as well as its 1,200 law students could be at risk.
“It’s a very difficult issue to deal with,” said Harry Haynsworth, dean of William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. “It’s the kind of thing people feel strongly about on both sides.”
The military hasn’t recruited at William Mitchell since 1987, but the law school does refer interested students to the local recruiting office. A recent class included five graduates who joined the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Haynsworth said.
The government has frozen $419,000 in aid that the law school’s students were eligible for this academic year, including work-study funds that provide stipends for students who clerk at the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“Unfortunately, maybe the dollar is more important than the principled approach,” said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay rights group. “The price of principle should be higher than a student’s loans.”
At Kenyon, there was no formal protest of the reappearance of Army recruiters, although Kravetz and other students stopped by the recruiters’ information table to question the Clinton administration’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that replaced the traditional out-right ban on homosexuals.
Sgt. 1st Class Alden Byrd told Kenyon’s campus newspaper that students should “use their energy and intelligence to focus on why the government, and not the Army, is instituting the policies they disagree with.”
“It’s so frustrating,” said Kravetz, a junior from Tarzana, Calif. “He ran off a list of terrible things you can be discharged for - spousal abuse, drunken driving, narcotics - and homosexuality was on that list.”