On the Best Place for ROTC : ELSEWHERE

by Damon Suden



Does the following passage sound familiar to any of you?

"It [MIT] does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of
race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age, or
national or ethnic origin in administration of its educational
policies, admissions policies, employment policies, scholarship and
loan programs, and other Institute administered programs and
activities..."

	Well, it should.  It's MIT's statement of nondiscrimination,
and with all the controversy over whether ROTC should stay or go, I
think many have lost sight of this simple statement. It spells out
quite distinctly what MIT stands for, or at least what it purports to
stand for, and leaves no room for exceptions or provisos. However,
ROTC, a program clearly administered by the Institute, somehow manages
to violate the above policy in several respects and remain happily on
our campus.
	MIT's charter specifies that it must offer military training
on campus and it has done so since its first classes were offered back
in 1865. ROTC came into existence in 1916 and was adopted on the MIT
campus, as it was on many others. It wasn't until the late 1970's,
however, that MIT added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination
policy. Even at that time, the administration knew that ROTC and the
Department of Defense (DOD) would violate the Institute's newly
adopted policy. They reluctantly allowed ROTC to be the exception and
thereby enabled discrimination to remain on our campus while claiming
to be against it.
	In 1989, an ad hoc committee was set up to investigate the
relationship between MIT and ROTC, including the issue of the obvious
discrepancy between the MIT nondiscrimination policy and the DOD
policy of discrimination based on sexual preference. The committee
consisted of three faculty, three administrators, the head of Army
ROTC at MIT at the time, and two students -- one of whom was in
ROTC. By October 1989, the majority of the committee had concluded
that ROTC and its programs are "a benefit to MIT and the nation."
However, in an apparent strike of conscience they also said MIT should
play a "leading role in attempting to change objectionable policies."
The minority opinion of this committee called for a severing of ties
with ROTC because they did not find that ROTC was useful or beneficial
to MIT, so long as the DOD excluded queers. They said MIT "cannot
continue to make exceptions with regard to such vital community
standards." The committee also recognized that in the past MIT has had
"influential" effects on changing ROTC policy, both on this campus and
nationwide.
	If you ask me, kicking ROTC off of campus and telling ROTC and
the DOD to go screw themselves would send a loud and clear message
across the country that MIT finds their homophobic policies not only
"objectionable," but utterly intolerable. This would most certainly be
a "leading role," and you can be guaranteed that everyone from ROTC
officers on other campuses to the upper-ups in the DOD would start to
pay attention. But then again, why would MIT want to risk upsetting
the military-types just for a bunch of queers? It is almost impossible
to even consider that MIT might actually be willing to threaten the
status quo of the military establishment, just over the issue of
equity, prejudice, discrimination, and civil rights, when so many more
important things like reputation, favor with the DOD, and of course
funding from the military would be put into question. That would be
too...virtuous.
	And so here we are in 1995, and ROTC is still allowed to
function on our campus. However, this could all change very soon. On
May 16, 1990 the MIT faculty gave overwhelming support to a resolution
which urged an evaluation of any changes in DOD policy after five
years. They further recommended that if ROTC was still in conflict
with MIT's policy, it would no longer be offered, starting with the
class of 1998. This was a courageous move on the part of the MIT
faculty. Now, five years later, a task force is being set up and in
about six months it will give a recommendation to the president on
what course of action would be best to take.
	A major point of discussion will most likely be the new "Don't
Ask, Don't Tell" policy implemented by President Clinton. (see
sidebar, "How is Clinton's Plan Working? Don't Ask...")  From my point
of view there isn't much to discuss considering that this policy,
although well-intentioned, is in violation of one's freedom of speech
and thereby unconstitutional. Of course, the Supreme Court will make
the final decision on this -- and that's a topic for another
article. Either way, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" still prohibits out,
practicing queers from joining ROTC, which is still in opposition to
MIT policy. ROTC conflicts with that policy in several other lesser
known areas as well. For instance, ROTC requires testing for HIV and
then will dismiss you if you test positive. Being that having HIV is
considered a disability, the above ROTC practice can be more commonly
known as discriminating on the basis of disability, which just happens
to appear in MIT policy as well.
	It does not take a task force or a committee to realize that
ROTC, as long as it refuses to admit queers, is in direct conflict
with MIT's purported policy of equality for all. The decision to sever
ties with ROTC will not be easy for some, but keeping ROTC on campus
embodies the antithesis of what MIT is all about. Students at MIT
should not have to experience discrimination based on who they are or
how they choose to live their lives. MIT should not tolerate any
individual, group, or organization that does so. Doing so breeds
hatred, which is not a family value, nor is it a value that I want on
this campus.
	Back in 1990, the MIT president, as well as several other
university officials, wrote a letter to then Secretary Dick Cheney
asking the DOD to review its ban on homosexuals, citing that there
were several compelling reasons for the change. In the letter, then
MIT Provost John Deutch (who was later Undersecretary of Defense when
the ridiculous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was put forth), during a
rare moment of sensibility, likened the current ban to similar bans
made in the past on Blacks and women. It has been argued in the past
that the presence of Blacks and women in the military would cause
disunity among the soldiers, lower morale, and lead to ultimate
military failure. Now, it's time for queers to stand up against the
onslaught of utterly idiotic claims and accusations. How can queers
and straights work and shower and sleep in such tight
quarters... together? Well, perhaps if it were the homophobes, rather
than the homosexuals, who were thrown out of the military, everyone
would get along just fine - just a thought. But the DOD saw no reason
to re-evaluate their policy. The fact that it is wrong, based on
stereotypes and falsities, and only serves to perpetuate unneeded
hatred in this country did not cross their minds. They made mistakes
in excluding Blacks and women, but this time they're right. How silly
of us to think otherwise.
	If anyone out there in administrator land is reading this, I
ask you to re-read the passage at the beginning of this article, then
look at ROTC and the DOD and ask yourself if their policies are in any
way coherent with MIT's. Then you must decide which you hold more
dear. Will you support an organization so entrenched in
discrimination, hatred, homophobia, and still, to a large extent,
racism and sexism? Or will you realize that, although the situation
may get ugly and problems may arise, ROTC currently has no place on
the MIT campus. Whoever is in charge of making the final decision
should take a stand for what's right, for that little passage that
appears in the back of the course bulletin that has apparently been
forgotten. That simple ideal was one reason I came to MIT, and to
destroy that ideal for the sake of ROTC would be a shame. We provided
military training without ROTC before 1916 and if it is so necessary,
I'm sure we could do it again. I take offense to an organization which
would exclude me because of who I choose to love and have sex
with. Queers should be given the same opportunities and be held up to
the same standards as everyone else in the military, and everywhere
else for that matter. Until that day arrives, ROTC needs to make its
home elsewhere.


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