Mavy reverses decision / Bettiker not required to repay Navy ROTCBy Irene C. Kuo
Citing "extenuating circumstances," the Navy has reversed its decision to seek repayment of tuition money from Robert L. Bettiker '90 and Harvard graduate David E. Carney, two midshipmen disenrolled from the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps because they are gay.
"I didn't expect to go to court, but I didn't expect the Navy to come out with an official statement, either," Bettiker said. "I thought they would just table the issue."
A Navy spokesman maintained that the ruling would not affect the resolution of future cases.
"Each case is reviewed on its own merits," he said, adding that there had been "no uproar" at the Navy.
While Bettiker expressed hope that the Navy's decision would help others caught in a similar situation, he called the ruling a "band-aid solution" because it did not address the issue of discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military.
"The Navy is still denying that they kicked out someone who could do a good job," he said. Bettiker said he was willing to serve but did not say whether he and his lawyer would press the Navy to return his commission.
The spokesman, however, denied speculation that the ruling marked the advent of a change in the policy that bars homosexuals from serving.
To his knowledge, Bettiker and Carney were the only students asked to repay the Navy after being disenrolled for homosexuality. The spokesman did not know the total number of gays removed from ROTC.
But just as the decision not to seek reimbursement from Bettiker was announced, a gay midshipman dismissed from another NROTC unit contacted US Representative Gerry E. Studds (D-MA). Studds, who in March asked the Secretary of the Navy to review Bettiker's and Carney's cases, immediately dispatched another letter to the Pentagon. The name of the new midshipman has been withheld.
"I had hoped the resolution of Bettiker's and Carney's cases reflected a change in the Navy's overall policy on repayment of scholarship funds from midshipmen dismissed because they are gay," he wrote.
"Must I look forward to hearing from midshipman after midshipman who has been ordered to repay funds which -- as the Navy acknowledged with regard to Carney and Bettiker -- he should not be required to pay?" Studds continued.
Bettiker appears on national news
Bettiker first received news of the decision while being interviewed on campus by NBC Nightly News.
"The producer gave me a copy of the letter from the Secretary of the Navy and asked me if I had seen it," Bettiker said. He later received a copy of the same letter from his former commanding officer, Captain Robert W. Sherer.
The letter, dated April 27, took 11 days to reach the MIT ROTC unit. "Things travel slowly at the Pentagon," a Navy spokesman explained.
The spokesman did not know how NBC got a copy of the letter. "There are leaks all over [the Pentagon]," he said. He denied that the Navy made its decision after discovering NBC was going to cover the story. "That's not a reason for a decision as important as this," corroborated Sherer.
Sherer did not think that anti-ROTC demonstrations at MIT had influenced the outcome, either. "The ruling on Bettiker's case was a rather short-notice response," he said. "Since the prospect of terminating the ROTC relationship had such a long-range deadline attached to it, and since no other decisions have been made, I wouldn't relate the two."
No decision on Army cadet
The Army has not concluded its review of James M. Holobaugh, a gay cadet discharged from Army ROTC at Washington University who was also asked to repay his scholarship. A spokesman said the Navy's ruling would have no effect on Holobaugh's case.
Like Bettiker's lawyer, Holobaugh's lawyer expressed dismay at the Navy's decision not to address the larger issue of discrimination against homosexuals and expected a tough battle ahead.
"Most of the challenges to the policy [barring homosexuals] have come from people already in the military and then kicked out," he said. "It is much harder when you're on the outside trying to get in."