Thursday, May 13, 2010

Military Recruiters and Elena Kagan

Did Elena Kagan ban military recruiters from Harvard Law? According to Peter Beinart, not only did she ban them but she should apologize for what he calls an extreme expression of "national estrangement." Jill Filipovic takes him to task:

I’m not sure if Peter Beinhart is being intentionally intellectually dishonest in this column, or if he just doesn’t actually understand the issues involved in the decision of several law schools to ban military recruiters from campus. He takes Elena Kagan to task for her role, as Dean of Harvard Law School, in “banning” the legal branch of the U.S. military from coming and conducting on-campus interviews. In fact, Kagan didn’t actually ban the military at all — she accommodated them, just not through the Career Services office. And unlike other top law schools, which actually did block the JAG Corps from on-campus recruiting, Kagan allowed JAG recruiters to come to Harvard and interview students through the Harvard Law School Veterans Association, rather than through the career center.

Kagan didn't ban recruiters from the law school campus; she simply didn't allow them to recruit through the Career Services office, a move that Filipovic calls "an even-handed application of an existing policy that applies to all organizations and employers recruiting on campus." Still, they were allowed on campus through the Harvard Law School Veteran's Association.

Beinart argues that "[t]he United States military is not Procter and Gamble. It is not just another employer. It is the institution whose members risk their lives to protect the country." But as Filipovic points out, the recruiters weren't looking for soldiers. They were recruiting for the JAG Corps, which is "different than working in private practice, sure, but it’s not all that different from lawyering at a non-profit organization, or a firm, or as a law clerk, or in another branch of government."

Beinart is a smart commentator, but his hunger for history's narrative power and symbolism seems to lead him to false analogies. Just as Communism isn't a good analogue for Jihadism, Vietnam-era bans on the ROTC aren't good likenesses of Kagan's application of Harvard's anti-discrimination policies. It may make a good story—one that Republicans are eager to exploit—but that's no excuse for ignoring the details at the expense of honesty.

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