Panel condemns discriminatory policy
By Kai Tao
Panel members at Wednesday's colloquium titled "MIT and ROTC: A Future Together?" agreed that it would be a shame if the Reserve Officers' Training Corps were removed from campus, but stressed their determination to change the military's policy of excluding gay men and lesbians.
The colloquium, sponsored by the Undergraduate Association and Defeat Discrimination at MIT (DDMIT), featured Professor of Electrical Engineering Alvin W. Drake '57, chair of MIT's Standing Committee on ROTC, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Bill Rubenstein, Kate Dyer, executive assistant to Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-MA), and Provost John M. Deutch '61.
Under current military policy, gays and lesbians are not allowed to enlist in ROTC or any other programs. This, many administration officials have said, violates MIT's policy prohibiting discrimination based upon race, sex, creed, or sexual orientation.
The colloquium opened with Drake speaking about the positive aspects of the ROTC program. Giving statistics such as the fact that 80 percent of the nation's commissioned officers are drawn from the ROTC program, Drake talked about the impact ROTC has had on the US military over the years. Therefore, he concluded, it is a shame that ROTC continues to practice a discriminatory policy toward gays.
Emphasizing the importance of remaining "in the game" in order to bring about change, Drake suggested that MIT lobby for the elimination of the discriminatory policy. He hoped other universities would follow MIT's lead.
Rubenstein took a stronger view and urged MIT to set a date to remove the ROTC program if the policy is not changed. Contrasting sharply with Drake's suggestion, Rubenstein stressed the importance of working from outside the system to lobby for change. Only then, he said, would the Department of Defense pay attention to the seriousness of MIT's intentions.
Deutch, commenting on his efforts from within the system, discussed his April 1990 letter to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney denouncing the ROTC policy. Deutch said he never expected the amount of publicity the letter generated. At the colloquium he recounted tales of friends and colleagues who were shocked that he took such a bold stance against such a "touchy" subject.
The surprise stemmed from the fact that the issue was not raised by a "radical," but by the provost of a major university with strong ties to the DOD.
Deutch said the DOD was uncomfortable over his use of the phrase "discrimination based upon sexual preference" since policy-makers in the DOD felt that barring homosexuals was morally correct.
Dyer joined the provost's outcry against the ROTC policy. As a lesbian and the daughter of an MIT graduate who was in Navy ROTC, Dyer said both she and her father found it absurd that she cannot serve her country just because she is gay.
Dyer proclaimed that the battle she is fighting is not against ROTC, but rather a battle toward ending all forms of discrimination.
Pointing out that if ROTC discriminated based on race or gender today, the public would not tolerate it, Dyer found it outrageous that the same standards
are not applied to discrimination against homosexuals.
Dyer continued by declaring that the present policy exists only for the "vocal minority," which clamors constantly against the change, while the silent majority sits and watches, she said.
"Though there are many gay rights sympathizers in Congress," Dyer said, "a measure eliminating discrimination against gays would only pass today if the vote were secret, a course that is clearly impossible given the controversy over the issue."
"Even if Cheney were to change the policy today, Congress might pass a law restoring the discriminatory policy against homosexuals," she said.