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WHO WILL BEAR THE LAW’S DELAY? SHANNON FAULKNER, THAT’S WHO

SHARE WHO WILL BEAR THE LAW’S DELAY? SHANNON FAULKNER, THAT’S WHO

Shannon Faulkner, meet the brooding Hamlet. You two have much to brood about.

Faulkner, as most of the country is now aware, is the young woman who sued last year for admission to the cadet corps of The Citadel here in Charleston.Prince Hamlet, you will recall, asked questions for all time. Who would bear the whips and scorns of time? Who would bear the oppressor's wrong, the law's delay? He might have dwelled especially on the law's delay.

Faulkner appeared to have won her suit on July 22. U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck ordered the college to admit her "forthwith."

Then, on Aug. 12, Hamlet's baneful specter raised its ugly head: more delay. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed to hear the school's appeal next December. What with the writing of briefs, the hearing of argument and the writing of an opinion, it will be months before a panel of the Fourth Circuit renders its decision.

Then will come a motion for a rehearing en banc, followed by a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, which petition, if granted, will be followed by the writing of briefs, the hearing of argument and the writing of a high court opinion. Judge Houck predicted gloomily that it may be 1996, after Faulkner's junior year, before the last order is entered. What did Hamlet say about the law's delays? They're hard to bear.

My heart is on The Citadel's side. It ought to be possible, the 14th Amendment notwithstanding, for The Citadel to remain a bastion of male bonding.

My head tells me that Faulkner has been badly treated. As I read the law, state colleges cannot discriminate on account of sex any more than they can discriminate on account of race. Houck was right on target. The Citadel's lawyers have raised procrastination to a fine art.

The business of the haircut drew national attention. Faulkner's counsel moved desperately for an order forbidding The Citadel from giving her the same burr haircut that welcomes other first-year students. On Aug. 5 Houck denied the motion. He ruled, quite sensibly, that this is not the stuff of constitutional law.

The young woman's counsel pursued the matter on Aug. 9. A knob cut, they insisted, serves no compelling educational purpose. It is simple harassment, designed to discourage other women from applying in the future.

To these lamentations The Citadel responded coldly. What were her lawyers saying? Was she more vain than her male counterparts because she is a woman? On this crucial issue The Citadel prevailed. Off with her locks!

The point may now be moot, but for the record: More than 20 years ago, in Massie vs. Henry, the Fourth Circuit ruled upon such cosmic battles. The case involved a group of long-haired students at Tuscola High School in Haywood County, N.C. The principal suspended them for having hair that flowed over their ears and below their collars.

Judge Harrison L. Winter held that the school's rule violated the students' constitutional right to liberty. A year later the Fourth Circuit reaffirmed this ruling in a West Virginia case involving a high school football player whose long hair cost him his letter.

Those hairy precedents probably have no application to a quasi-military institution where uniformity in appearance is indispensable to good order, but they offer Shannon Faulkner something to think about. As she pursues her studies as a day student, she will have plenty of time to think. Who will bear the law's delays? Shannon Faulkner, that's who.