Army taps MU as recruiting test site

A spokesman says pre-recorded recruiting messages are not the result of demand for troops in Iraq.
Friday, December 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:56 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

Uncle Spam — er, make that Uncle Sam — wants you.

That is, if you’re a senior at MU or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign he does. Using prerecorded telephone messages and e-mail, the Army began a recruiting test project on both campuses Tuesday aimed at about 12,000 seniors and the occasional graduate student.

“If you need money for college, up to $70,000, a way to repay college loans, or just want an adventure, the U.S. Army may be right for you,” the phone message says, going on to offer a $20,000 signing bonus — the largest ever offered by the Army.

The e-mail takes a similar approach.

It’s the first time recruiters have used a prerecorded message instead of local recruiters to call individuals. The two universities were selected because they have the largest student populations in the coverage area of the St. Louis Army recruiting battalion, the recruiting group in charge of the messages.

Army representatives denied that the new recruiting push was the result of demand for fresh troops in Iraq.

“It’s a new program to expand on what we were already doing,” said Dave Palmer, chief of advertising and public affairs for the battalion. “Before the prerecorded messages, recruiters were sitting down and making the phone calls. It’s just a better use of recruitment time.”

Under the Solomon Amendment, universities that receive public funding must comply with Department of Defense requests for lists of personal contact information for their students. This includes requests from the armed services. The lists are not usually available to other groups outside the university because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits the release of students’ personal information without permission.

Twice a year, the St. Louis Army recruiting battalion requests a list of students and selects a group to contact, usually seniors, said Sergio Barrientos, educational specialist with the battalion. Barrientos has been recruiting at MU and 80 other universities and colleges in Missouri and Illinois for more than a decade.

The battalion, which covers the area from Columbia to southeastern Illinois, recruited 1,700 soldiers last year — the highest recruitment figure in the nation.

In addition to the phone messages, recruitment officers have continued to send e-mails to thousands of students as they have done for several years.

“As soon as e-mail became practical, we started using it,” Palmer said. “We’ve had positive responses through e-mails so far this time around.”

The phone campaign has also produced responses from interested students although it has also resulted in calls from roughly 45 students asking to be taken off the list, Palmer said.

MU Senior Zach Mortice said he was surprised to receive the e-mail. “It seemed odd and out of the ordinary because it came out of my school account,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be that easy (for the Army and the university to exchange information),” he said.

Bryan Hartman, an MU senior already in the Army, said he can’t stand junk mail but made an exception for e-mail from an Army recruiter.

“I think it is very important for recruiters in the military to have at least some form of contact with the general public,” he said. “Don’t you think we need a little more support from the home front? People in this country need to be aware that there is a high demand for military personnel.”

But Palmer said the phone call and e-mail campaign is not the result of a shortage of troops for the war in Iraq.

“It’s business as usual,” he said. “Sure, there’s a heightened awareness, but this is simply a modification of previous procedures.”

A total of 76 people enlisted in the Army and Army Reserve last year at the Columbia recruitment office — 21 had some college experience.

MU Registrar Brenda Selman said only the names and contact information of undergraduates were released this semester. However, some graduate students also received calls. The difference between graduate and undergraduates could be an important one, depending upon how a recent legal decision on the Solomon Amendment is interpreted.

On Nov. 29, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia, ruled that it is unconstitutional to allow military recruiters unrestricted access to law school campuses. The court’s 2-1 decision declared the amendment “incompatible with (the law schools’) educational objectives, and no compelling governmental interest has been shown to deny this freedom.”

To be accredited by the American Association of Law Schools, a law school must have a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. The lawsuit, filed by a group of 25 law schools, including the one at Washington University in St. Louis, argued that the amendment forces schools to endorse the military’s policy of excluding homosexuals from the service.

The government could still appeal the case, but two other lawsuits are still pending.

The effect of the decision on MU is unclear. MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said the law school has never barred military recruiters and that she was unaware of the court’s decision.

Barrientos said graduate students were not targeted by the campaign. “Why would we want them? They have jobs already,” he said. But he acknowledged they could have been contacted if the university provided their information in error.

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