SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. — For Vermont Law School, the price of standing on principle was $500,000.
That's how much school officials estimate they lost in federal money every year for refusing to allow military recruiters on campus because of their opposition to the Pentagon's policy on gays in the uniformed services.
Now that it's being repealed, Vermont Law School and another independent law school – the William Mitchell College of Law, in St. Paul, Minn. – are gearing up to welcome back recruiters.
Come fall, uniformed representatives of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps are expected to return to the campuses.
The law schools were the only ones in America that barred the recruiters despite a measure known as the Solomon Amendment, which banned some types of federal funding from going to institutions that balked at allowing on-campus visits by recruiters for the judge advocates general.
Both are independent law schools unaffiliated with larger universities or state institutions, which allowed them to stand on principle without costing affiliated schools millions of federal dollars for scientific research and other academic pursuits.
Other schools couldn't.
"William Mitchell and Vermont (Law School) deserve a ton of credit," said Kent Greenfield, a Boston College law professor who was part of an unsuccessful court challenge to the Solomon Amendment by law schools in 2003. "They're worthy of a lot of admiration and the thanks of gay and lesbian service members and gay and lesbians around the country for sticking up for gay rights, even when it cost them federal funds."
The U.S. has barred homosexuals from the armed services since World War I.
For decades, incoming recruits would be questioned about their sexual orientation. In 1993, President Bill Clinton relaxed the law to say the military couldn't ask about sexual orientation anymore, and that gay soldiers, sailors and Marines could be discharged only if their sexual orientation became known.
Last December, Congress repealed that law.
Last month, President Barack Obama formally ended the ban on gays in the military, certifying to Congress that it won't hamper the military's ability to fight. Effective Sept. 20, gay service members will be able to openly acknowledge their sexual orientation.
At the 650-student Vermont Law School, the anti-discrimination policy underlying the recruiter ban dates to 1985.
It forced aspiring judge advocate general lawyers to trek to Boston to meet with recruiters, since they weren't allowed on the campus in sleepy South Royalton, Vt.
"It's not that we're looking for a fight with the military, or to truncate the opportunity for our students to join the military, but rather that we feel that the policy with regard to welcoming employers onto campus is one that should be evenhanded, a, and b, that there's a symbolic aspect of this, which is something that this particular community wants to stand for," said Dean Jeff Shields.
The school accepted some federal money from agencies that weren't covered by Solomon but missed out on far more.
VLS professors and officials lobbied on Capitol Hill to repeal "don't ask don't tell," but the school's insistence on banning recruiters over it wasn't universally welcomed by faculty members, students and alumni.
It cost the school money in other ways, according to Shields.
"I've had not many but a few alumni who've told me face to face or written letters saying `Jeff, we like Vermont Law School but as long as you have this policy, we're not going to make a contribution to the law school,'" Shields said. "It's my belief that it's really important that not only individuals but institutions speak up for principle."
At the 1,000-student William Mitchell College of Law, there was similar dissent.
"It's a shame the school picked on the military like this," said Lt. Robert Goldaris, 23, a U.S. Marine Corps officer studying at Mitchell. "I think it's narrow-sighted. That's my personal perspective. There are other organizations that are far more discriminatory. Schools have no problems with (on-campus recruiting by) law firms with barely any minority partners."
As a practical matter, he says, Mitchell's stance curtailed employment opportunities for its graduates.
"The military isn't an easy place to get hired, but it's a job and it's a great job. It's a shame there were students who didn't have access because their school didn't want to allow all the possible employment recruiters on campus," Goldaris said.
Mitchell school Dean Eric Janus acknowledges as much.
He says the school isn't anti-military, just anti-discrimination.
"We don't have a policy against the military. We just have an anti-discrimination policy, and we treated everyone the same. If you sign it, we welcome you. If you discriminate against some of our students, you're not welcome to use some of our facilities."
That school missed out on some federal funding, too, but it wasn't a large amount, according to Janus.
At Mitchell, military recruiters will likely come to campus twice a year. Janus says the school may even host a reception to mark their return.
Vermont Law School's career services office, meanwhile, has already received telephone calls from JAG recruiters looking to come to campus in the fall, and Shields has asked the Pentagon to restore its eligibility for the federal funding that was cut off for so long.
"The Department appreciates the opportunity that gives students the chance to learn about service in the military," said Eileen M. Lainez, a Department of Defense spokeswoman.