Speak softly and carry a big sign: The tension that has come to be associated with UCSC career fairs in the last few years was allayed last week, as the planned counter-recruitment action became a more generalized antiwar rally after a mysterious case of 'mis-communication' resulted in military recruiters losing their tabling space.
What really made the military pull out of UCSC's job fair?
By Leah Bartos
When word got around a week before last week's UCSC job fair that military recruiters were pulling out, students organizers who have kept the campus essentially recruitment free for the last two years quickly claimed it as another victory. It was past students protests, they asserted, that had scared off the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.
What quickly became clear, however, is that no one seemed to know exactly why the military had ended up on the outs with the campus event, which has become a yearly flashpoint for controversy.
The U.S. Army denies it got a case of the jitters. In fact, Sgt. Ray Ward, a Capitola-based Army recruiter, says that he was planning to attend the job fair all along.
"We definitely want to be there," Sgt. Ward says. "It's our job, first and foremost. And it's the right of students who do want us to be there."
From there, the story has more clashing perspectives on what actually transpired than Rashomon. Ward says the U.S. Army Health Professions Scholarships decided to pull out of the job fair because they were hoping to target graduate-level students, but that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps still planned to recruit at the job fair. However, since the three sectors were sharing a table, "[The Career Center] took that as the whole army is not showing up," Ward says.
Campus spokesman Jim Burns, however, believes that the miscommunication was between the military representatives, not between the Career Center and the recruiters.
"What they told us, in one case, it was a scheduling conflict. 'Overbooked,' I believe, was the term they used," Burns says, referring to the medical branch's decision to withdraw from the job fair.
Neither the military nor the administration attributes the military's absence to student protests.
Students Against War (SAW), the UCSC group responsible for organizing counter-recruitment protests since 2005, claimed victory regardless.
"We can't say authoritatively that we are the reason they canceled," admits SAW member Alexander Jabarri, "but I think that for all intents and purposes, it's pretty clear."
The group had originally planned to protest the military presence at the job fair, with organizers expecting a turnout of up to 400 protesters. But once the table was canceled, SAW shifted its demonstration to focus on its opposition to the war in general. About 100 protesters gathered at the Bay Tree Plaza before marching across various points on campus, where students had prepared brief speeches to educate their counterparts about UC's entanglement with war.
The UC's management of the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Labs and their production of nuclear warheads has been central to the students' criticisms. Since the group's formation two years ago, SAW protesters have kicked out military recruiters from the last three job fairs. Until last week's event, the UCSC administration had postponed the job fair for the entire 2006-2007 school year, citing safety concerns due to past student protests.
In 2005, the Department of Defense labeled SAW a "credible threat" to domestic security in an anti-terrorist database. The efforts of the UCSC student protesters have continued to land the group in the national spotlight, earning praise from the antiwar movement and scrutiny from conservative bloggers and even Fox News' O'Reilly Factor. Although the UCSC administration claims to sanction the students' right to protest, under the Solomon Amendment, all public universities in the United States must allow military recruiters the opportunity to participate in campus career fairs in order to secure federal funding. UCSC has received approximately $100 million in federal aid for the current school year.
Although the Army recruiters from the Capitola office clearly stated their intention to participate in the job fair, UCSC is not at risk of losing federal funding over the military's absence last week, Burns says.
"We are obligated by federal law to provide military recruiters the same access to the fair as civilian recruiters," he says. However, the military is still required to go through the same application process as any other employer to participate in the job fair. By the time Ward contacted the Career Center to try to resecure his table, Burns says it was simply too late and that the space had already been filled by another employer.
Only several days before the cancellation of the military's table at the job fair, student government leaders sent a letter to administrators, urging them to reconsider allowing the military to recruit in the same location as other employers, for fear that the entire job fair would be disrupted. Ray Austin, president of the Student Union Assembly, says that he would like to think that the student concerns had some influence over the final outcome, but he doubts the administration would give them such credence.
Either way, he says he was happy with the outcome. "I think it's amazing that this whole year we haven't had military recruiters on our campus," Austin says. "Hopefully we can start to inspire other schools to do the same thing."
Soldiers Speak Up
Other UCSC students, however, are not so proud of their school's anti-military reputation. "There's actually quite a few moderate and conservative students on this campus who are likely to be in the closet for fear of reprisal," says Jeremy Naves, a third-year UCSC student and Iraq war veteran. Naves, who served three tours in Iraq between 2001 and 2004 with the Marine Corps, thinks military recruiters should be allowed on all college campuses.
"The military is here to secure our nation and you need the best people possible to do that service. There's still a lot of people [from UCSC] who would fit in those standards," Naves says. Other Iraq war veterans, however, have a different view of the student protests. Jeff Englehart served in the Army Third Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, in Iraq from February 2004 to February 2005, but has since turned against the war and joined a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War. Englehart participated in SAW's antiwar rally last week. Though Englehart praised the efforts of the UCSC protests, he has noticed a great deal of apathy across college campuses, even at UC-Santa Cruz.
"I think that students, by and large, across this country don't feel affected by this yet," Englehart says, noting that without a draft, many students feel disconnected from the war. "The system has stepped up its game since the 1960s, and we need to step up ours. What sacrifices are activists willing to make to bring this change?"
Whether one sees military recruitment as a First Amendment right or as a means to access raw material for unjust wars, former U.S. Marine and UCSC alumnus Robert Zabala stresses the importance of communication.
"You can't just attack these people [recruiters]. All they want is respect," he says. "They're humans first."
In regards to student counter-recruitment protests, Zabala says there is not necessarily a "right" way to express opposition to the war.
"Different means to the same end," he says. "What's important is that is creates dialogue. There's no substitute for that."
Send a letter to the editor about this story.