Vermont Law School pretends to fight for equality

by twit

How embarrassing. For an institution with the motto “law for the community and the world,” one has to wonder why they are engaging in self-mutilation that flies in the face of the most deeply held principles of the school.

Vermont Law School has long opposed the “don’t ask don’t tell” military policy, which is a great thing. They joined several schools in a lawsuit that went up to the United States Supreme Court, challenging the loss of federal funding that followed the refusal to permit military recruiters on campus. And they lost in a unanimous decision by the Court.

The response by Vermont Law School is to continue to bar the military recruiters on campus. Which means, according to the New York Times on June 30, 2008, that the school will not receive an estimated $300,000 to $500,000 in federal dollars each year that the ban continues. The new dean expresses how proud he is to “speak truth to power,” and how great it is to sacrifice such an enormous amount of money for such a tiny school.

I suppose I should send my Vermont Law School diploma back in protest, because I don’t want to display it anywhere if it means being associated with backward and destructive political action. If that school taught me anything, it was to speak out against foolish policies that ultimately hinder the fight for equality.

I oppose the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and I think it is one of the most egregious aspects of Bill Clinton’s legacy. So I would much rather that Vermont Law School allow the recruiters onto campus, dig the huge rainbow flag out of storage, permit the students to protest like they have in the past and take the government’s money.

Then use every penny of it funding the fight for equality. The school could offer scholarships to students interested in the fight for equality and reforming military policy. A clinic dedicated to fighting discrimination could be funded. The paltry student loan repayment assistance offered by the school to graduates working in the public interest could be more than doubled, considering the school was only able to come up with $158,000 to allocate last year.

Vermont Law School did what it could to fight the issue in the legal arena and it lost. Instead of creating opportunity for its students and promoting the fight for equality, it now falls on its own sword and cripples itself in that fight. The short-sighted nature of this attempt to score the hollow political point seems like an incredible failure of leadership, one that is far more concerned with the appearance of taking a stand than actually getting anything done.

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10 Responses to Vermont Law School pretends to fight for equality

  1. michelle2005 says:

    I love your site! Numerous times I’ve visited, yet, the below sentence you wrote sums up perfectly, exactly, “why” I so very much appreciate what you write:
    ————–
    “If that school taught me anything, it was to speak out against foolish policies that ultimately hinder the fight for equality”
    ————–

    Sadly, in today’s world…most haven’t a clue as to the meaning of the word “equality”.

    This is a bit ‘off-topic’…yet, I bring it up due to the fact I’d lived outside the US for so long. Did you know that I can count on one hand, the number of people I know that have ever heard of the “Universal Declaration of Human RIghts”?

    The times I’ve asked “Do you know anything about the “UDHR”…they look at me as if I’m from Mars. I always tell them to print off a copy, that they can easily get online…if they care to.

    Michelle

  2. The UDHR, though it is only an aspirational document, was drafted after the Nuremberg trials to express the UN’s role as an organization that promotes and maintains peace throughout the world. What is expressed in the UDHR is the foundation for many international treaties and covenants.

    It is convenient for the current leadership that so many people are not aware of the history of the international human rights movement and the laws of war. This provision of the UDHR in particular seems like one that the current administration would like as few people to pay attention to as possible:

    “UN Members ‘shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state'”

    with the exception of the ‘inherent right’ of self defense in response to an armed attack, of course. It does seem like a far cry from the foreign policy we’ve become accustomed to in America.

    (via Steiner & Alston, “International Human Rights In Context” 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, at 138-140)

    And thank you for reminding me about some of the incredible classes I had the privilege of taking at Vermont Law School.

  3. michelle2005 says:

    I keep a copy of the “Declaration of Independence & the Constitution”…and the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” right here on my desk.

    Having lived outside the USA for so long…and knowing which nations ratified that documnet, yet, seeing the egregious disregard for human decencey and basic dignity for human life…has radically changed my life. Then to top it all off…coming back to the USA …it looks like our own government “fell asleep at the wheel”

    You said, “And thank you for reminding me about some of the incredible classes I had the privilege of taking at Vermont Law School.

    Actually, I thank you for creating such an amazing site!

    Michelle

  4. michelle2005 says:

    I forgot to point out something you mentioned that I felt was of supreme importance.
    ——————
    ***”It is convenient for the current leadership that so many people are not aware of the history of the international human rights movement and the laws of war. This provision of the UDHR in particular seems like one that the current administration would like as few people to pay attention to as possible”***
    ——————–
    You are absoluely right on target!! This administration would, indeed, not like for the vast majority of our population to be aware of this document! Several of my friends, like you, are attorneys. Just yesterday, I got an email from one of them…saying almost the same thing you did. She and I had been discussing (on the phone) the UDHR last week.

    I told her, the same thing I told you…when I mention this document within my usual circle of friends (ministry)…they look at me as if I’m from Mars! She told me, that most people (USA) don’t know much history beyond our own borders. Experience, had taught me she is right.

    Michelle

  5. Michelle, you raise a point that is behind the scenes of the ire I express in this post. I am no longer a practicing attorney. Financial concerns were a large part of why I left the public interest law firm that I had worked at for several years.

    That is ultimately my point. Graduates from law school have ‘mortgages without the house’ these days and working in the field of ‘public interest law’ is an extreme financial sacrifice. By refusing to accept the desperately needed money from the federal government, it is my opinion that Vermont Law School fails to live up to its mission of placing as many graduates as possible into public service.

    Instead of providing funding to a fleet of attorneys to help make their work against discrimination financially possible, VLS essentially cuts off its nose to spite its face. It is the graduates who would have otherwise pursued public service who are ultimately harmed, and the school suffers because it loses out on the financial incentives it could otherwise create to entice talented students to the tiny town in the middle of Vermont where the school is located.

    One thing that is interesting to me is that it was a news article about an amazing graduate doing incredible public interest work that led me to apply to VLS in the first place. Had I been applying to law school this year, if I read this article it would have convinced me that VLS would not be an appropriate place for me to get a legal education. Which would have been a shame because it is an incredible school and I got an amazing education while I was there.

    I believe that we must do more than just use words, and that true social change will only come from hard work. I am saddened to see a school I hold such great respect for fail to use the available resources to take action and support the work of its students and graduates in the ongoing fight for equality.

    I do feel it would be a far more principled approach to use the money to spite the government and its discrimination, instead of allowing the government to hold onto those resources to support its own backward policies.

  6. michelle2005 says:

    You said a particular thing (“I believe that we must do more than just use words, and that true social change will only come from hard work. I am saddened to see a school I hold such great respect for fail to use the available resources to take action and support the work of its students and graduates in the ongoing fight for equality.”)…
    ———–
    I understand EXACTLY what you mean. Since you told me this…it gave me the courage to tell you something…I wrote of a personal experience on the Civil RIghts Movement site…here’s the web address: http://www.crmvet.org

    Once you get to that site…on the left side of the page, you’ll see a list of table of contents. Click on “Your Thoughts”…you’ll be able to read what I’d written.

    Keep in mind this was several years prior to me becoming involved overseas.

    NEVER give up on the dream that’s been planted within your heart! Yes, I agree there are plenty times it looks dark and impossible…but I’ve lived long enough to know, that what looks impossible to us…is NOT impossible for the One that planted that dream for social change within your heart.

    Be encouraged…you’re only at the beginning.

    Kindest Regards,

    Michelle

  7. JD_2006 says:

    Very well said! I agree and more people should know this.

  8. JD_2006 says:

    Very well said! I agree and more people should know this.

    Sorry, I commented with the wrong link in my earlier post. This link is good.

  9. biglaw says:

    All of you have very valid feelings regarding VLS and its policy. But I want to ask you, seriously, this question: If the policy was that black people could not serve in the military without “hiding” who they were, would your position change on VLS policy? If the govt said to black people – you can be in the military, so long as you hide who you are, straighten your hair, bleach your skin, and pretend that you are white – would that be something that was ok with you? Would that be something that VLS should overlook so that some students would have less DEBT when they graduate? Seriously THINK about what you are actually saying – because it isn’t so far from what led to the Halocaust – as long as it isn’t affecting me, it isn’t worth fighting. So stew on that for a little while and then let me know if the VLS policy is silly. If the policy was about an environmental policy, would you think it was so silly? Perhaps the environment is more important to you than HUMAN RIGHTS? jeezus.

  10. biglaw,

    We don’t need to resort to ridiculous extremes to argue a point – there are plenty of objectionable military policies that actually exist. For example, I don’t support the use of torture and I think Gitmo is an abomination. There are any number of reasons to ban military recruiters from a campus as a protest to military policy.

    Also, any violation of human rights effects me. It makes the world a more dangerous place for liberty and it places everyone’s rights in jeopardy.

    Which is why, now that VLS has done what it could to fight this issue in the courts, I think it would be wise to take the money and do something productive with it. Especially when that amount of money could accomplish so much.

    It isn’t simply about students having less debt – it is about making a difference in the number of students who can work in the public service field. It is about attracting talented students to that tiny (although beautiful) town in rural Vermont. It is about making a real difference, which is what I had understood the mission of the school to be – to contribute to the public interest field by turning out talented and dedicated graduates ready to confront threats to the public interest.

    I think it would be subversively effective to now take the government’s money and turn it into scholarships and loan assistance to support the fight for equality. I think it would recognize that there is a lot of work to be done, especially after the stunning loss at the USSC. To not take the money at this point feels like giving up, acting as if there is nothing else to be done besides make an empty gesture of self-sacrifice. That is how atrocities tend to take hold, like you point out, when people give up the fight.

    I see VLS as essentially giving up the fight by continuing to ban recruiters because they are giving up the resources that could otherwise be used to keep fighting.

    I would applaud the dean if he spoke at a campus protest of the recruiters if they arrived. He would be truly ‘speaking truth to power’ in that context. Especially if he was proud to announce how the money has been spent to support the ongoing fight for liberty and justice for all.

    And yes, if the recruiters were banned due to opposition to an environmental policy, I would think it “silly,” particularly given the excellence the school is known for in environmental law. How ridiculous to deny countless students the opportunity to involve themselves in that ongoing fight, just to make a rhetorical point.

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