Vietnam vets claim anti-war backlash

May 12, 1995

Twenty years after the war ended, Vietnam veterans are complaining that they have been denied jobs in universities in the United States because those in charge of higher education never served in the war and do not want to be reminded of the fact.

University officials acknowledge that they have small numbers of Vietnam veterans on their payrolls, but argue that the dearth of veterans has nothing to do with lingering campus resentment towards an unpopular war.

Ron Trewyn, assistant vice provost for research at Kansas State University, believes otherwise. He says his research shows that Vietnam veterans are seriously under-represented at some institutions. "In the 1960s a number of people used college campuses as a means of avoiding the draft," he explained.

"Many wound up staying on at these universities, and they are uncomfortable being around those who served during that period." Trewyn was in the infantry in Vietnam in 1969 and returned wounded. Survivor guilt is a well-known syndrome for soldiers who fought and saw their fellows killed. Why should one think it does not apply to those who made strenuous efforts not to join the war?

Vietnam veterans make up almost 6 per cent of the US workforce. Yet the American University in Washington employs only 2.5 per cent, Catholic University 2.8 per cent, George Washington University 2.3 per cent and the University of Virginia 1.6 per cent. At Georgetown University, 2.6 per cent are Vietnam-era veterans.This is despite the 1974 Veterans Readjustment Act which says that all federal contractors, including almost all US universities, must use affirmative action to hire these veterans.

There have been a number of challenges to this law, but few have got anywhere. Only 14 of 147 filed with the Labor Department in 1994 were thought to have merit.

One current case concerns David Curd, a former school district superintendent in Arizona, who has complained to the federal government that he was frozen out of five tenured jobs at Northern Arizona University because he served as an army lieutenant in Vietnam.

Mr Curd, who is now teaching at a high school, had been a popular visiting professor and was expecting to be offered a job. A spokeswoman for Northern Arizona University said the school looked into the complaint but found no evidence to support Mr Curd's allegations. The federal government is still investigating the case.

Another academic, Timothy Lomperis, a political scientist at Duke University, claims to have been denied tenure. His supporters say that a book he wrote arguing the war was justified, as well as his veteran status, destroyed his chances.

Many veterans are said to conceal the fact that they fought in Vietnam to escape what they fear will be a negative reaction by university boards.

Now, however, the campaign for justice for war veterans is moving beyond campus boundaries. Another target is the Clinton White House which, it is claimed, has not hired enough veterans. A group called Veteran Action has been set up hoping to highlight the White House's poor record on war veterans' employment and kill President Clinton's chances for re-election in 1996.

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