Divestment, ROTC change win support
By Chitra K. Raman
In the largest voter turnout in recent history, students who voted in the Undergraduate Association's special referendum on Monday and Tuesday called for divestment from companies doing business in South Africa and for ROTC to end discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Voters also overwhelmingly agreed that students engaged in peaceful demonstrations should not be arrested. Out of 4162 eligible students, 54.7 percent cast votes for three questions on these issues.
In response to the first question, "If the ROTC programs do not change their policy of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation within the next four years, should MIT disassociate from ROTC?" A total of 1071 students (47.1 percent) voted "yes." Forty-two percent of the voters rejected the referendum, and 249 (10.9 percent) had no opinion.
On the issue of divestment, students were asked "Should the MIT corporation divest all its holdings in firms doing business in or lending to South Africa?" A total of 1037 students (45.6 percent) favored the question; 822 students (36.1 percent) voted "no;" 417 voters (18.3 percent) voiced "no opinion."
The final question asked stu<>
dents to agree or disagree with the statement "Students who protest in a peaceful, non-violent and non-threatening manner should not be arrested. When students in such organized demonstrations violate MIT rules or policy, arrests should be reserved for situations where students present a direct physical threat to safety on campus." The majority of voters, 1774 students (78 percent), agreed with the statement, and 324 students (14.2 percent) disagreed. Votes of "no opinion" made up 7.8 percent of the total return.
Voter turnout high
David L. Atkins Jr. '90, chair of the referendum proceedings, said voter turnout was high because of the volatile nature of the issues and the fact that polling took place at course registration. "We hoped to at least bring every student to the polls," Atkins explained.
Also, the polls were open for two days because "we wanted to get the highest participation possible to get the most accurate results," he added.
The distribution of Course Evaluation Guides during the polling did result in controversy among some students, however. Some students felt that they were coerced into voting under the condition that it was the only way to receive a CEG guide. "This was not our policy," said Atkins.
But UA election volunteer Niraj S. Desai '90 said he was instructed to give students Course Guides after they voted.
Atkins explained that on Monday some of the poll-workers were somewhat over-zealous in an effort to get people to vote, and it might have appeared that obtaining a CEG was contingent upon voting. Signs were posted later Monday and on Tuesday to clear up the misunderstanding.
"We were especially careful to make sure people realized this," said Atkins. He further explained that issuing the CEGs at the voting tables was meant as a kind of "reward" to people who voted. "We didn't want to penalize those who didn't," he said.
In Atkins's view, the validity of the poll was in no way compromised. "I'm very satisfied this is a fair and accurate referendum," he said.
Referenda gauge student
opinion on MIT and ROTC
UA Vice President Colleen M. Schwingel '92 said that the results of the ROTC vote back up the MIT administration's position and that they "send a really strong message to ROTC."
In a recent letter to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Provost John M. Deutch '61 urged the military to reverse its discriminatory policy against homosexuals.
Schwingel believed many of the votes against breaking ties with ROTC could have resulted from the desire to preserve ROTC scholarship money, which is vital to the financial needs of ROTC students. "I think the number of `yes' votes would have been more if more [students] realized the other avenues from which to obtain money," she said.
Robert L. Bettiker '90, who was disenrolled from ROTC last fall after he told his commanding officer he was homosexual, said he "was pleasantly surprised" with the results. "I hope that it won't come down to a showdown between ROTC and MIT . . . and I hope that the [Department of Defense] will change the policy to prevent" a possible showdown on the issue," he added.
The vote demonstrated that it is not just a group at MIT, but the whole undergraduate body that feels strongly about the reversal of ROTC's discrimination policies, said Imtiyaz Hussein '91, president of Defeat Discrimination at MIT.
"The students have made their position clear," he said. "I'm really glad to be at a school where the undergraduate body will not tolerate discrimination and are willing to go to the point of having ROTC leave campus if its policies are not changed within four years."
Voters in favor of
divestment, peaceful protest
The results for the divestment question indicate that many people are undecided on the issue, UA president Manish Bapna '91 observed. But Bapna was a bit surprised that 45 percent of the undergraduates were in favor of MIT divesting all holdings from South Africa.
"What I feel we [the UA] should be doing now is studying the issue more," Bapna said. If the UA could write a proposal which would not necessarily require MIT to divest all of its holdings in South Africa but which had the support of 80 percent of undergraduates, it "would carry a lot of weight [with the administration]," he said.
Coalition Against Apartheid member Laura G. Spark G said the referenda were useful in gauging opinion in the undergraduate community and will prove useful in directing the coalition's efforts to further educate undergraduates on the issue.
Steven D. Penn G, another CAA member, was encouraged by the number of students who voted in favor of MIT divesting. That number, 1037 in favor of divestment, was more than in 1986, he said, when 895 approved a similar question.
But the 895 who voted for divestment four years ago represented 58 percent of the voters, a larger percentage than this year.
In particular, Penn felt that the UA's recent colloquium entitled "Should MIT Divest?" had a positive influence on the referendum. It informed people of the opinions of black South Africans on divestment, and might have contributed to the increase in voter participation, Penn said.
However, Penn was quick to point out that the referenda alone would not have far-reaching effects on the administration. "It's almost unheard of for the administration to take into account what the students think, especially if in disagreement from their policies," he said.
With regard to the question on student protest and dissent, Schwingel said that the results of the referendum were expected. Bapna did express his concern over its validity, however. The UA council's use of the words "peaceful protest" and "physical threat" are subject to interpretation and cause ambiguity, he said. "That ambiguity doesn't make the question that valid."