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By STEPHANIE M. PETERS STAFF WRITER - Published: February 7, 2010

Last week's call for a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" by Adm. Mike Mullin, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, marked the first time an active-duty, high-ranking military official has explicitly called for an end to the military policy, which prevents openly gay men and lesbians from serving.

At Vermont Law School, one of two law schools in the country to prohibit military recruiters on campus in protest of the discriminatory hiring policy, the news was heralded as an exciting development.

Mullin's statement "sends an incredible message," said associate professor Jackie Gardina, who's written extensively on the issue. "It's in stark contrast to 1993, when we had President Clinton stating that he wanted to lift the ban and the Joint Chiefs of Staff came out in opposition."

Gardina serves on the board of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization that offers free legal aid to those in the military who find themselves up against the law banning homosexuals. She's also one of several faculty and staff members who each year accompany between 20 and 40 students to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the law's repeal. This year, about 25 students have already signed up for the trip, she said.

The recent push to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" has "generated even more excitement because students feel there's actually movement on the Hill," Gardina said. "They feel like they won't just be educating legislators this year, but pushing for them to vote on some measures."

Vermont Law School's stance on the issue has come at a cost although it would be impossible to determine exactly what that's been, according to Geoffrey B. Shields, the school's dean and president.

Under the Solomon Amendment, the secretary of defense can deny federal funding to institutions of higher education that do not allow military recruitment. The William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., is the only other law school that bars the military from recruiting on its campus. Should "don't ask, don't tell" be repealed, the military would be welcome at Vermont Law School again and the school would have access to that money, Shields said.

"It would be significant for us," he said.

"The law school's position has been that we are opposed to discrimination by employers on a whole range of categories. Sexual orientation is one of them," Shields said. "We approach this we think in an evenhanded way. We're not selecting the military specifically. We apply the same test to any employer, so our position is if an employer is going to be invited on campus to recruit, they should not discriminate."

The military is the only employer currently banned from recruiting on campus, said Shields, who is himself a veteran of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Despite that lack of access, Vermont Law School still sees nearly 2 percent of its graduates join the Judge Advocate General's Corps, or JAG, the legal branch of the military. Nationally, about 1 percent of law school graduates join the JAG, according to Gardina.

Both Shields and Gardina said they're optimistic that the law will be repealed this time around.

"It's been my view that the best chance of changing the policy would come if the military leadership asked for a change," Shields said Friday. "I think that most congressmen and senators, no matter what their personal views are, will follow the lead of the military. If they're not already signatories or co-sponsors of the bill to revoke 'don't ask, don't tell,' they would get a great deal of political cover and comfort from a military position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that this ought to be changed."

stephanie.peters@rutlandherald.com



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