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MIT poised to lead the nation in the battle to change ROTC (1)

The resolution on the Reserve Officers' Training Corps passed by the MIT faculty on Oct. 17 represents a notable advance in the nationwide campus effort to end formalized discrimination against lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men in the US armed forces ["Faculty approve timetable for ROTC," Oct. 19].

The MIT initiative is significant for several reasons:

1/3 It sets a five-year deadline by which there must be substantive progress toward eliminating the military's ban on sexual nonconformists if ROTC is to remain available to students entering MIT in the fall of 1998.

1/3 It commits MIT to undertake a major coalition-building and lobbying effort to change Department of Defense policy on sexual orientation, and it calls on other schools to join MIT in opposing the military's exclusion of sexual minorities.

1/3 It reflects a remarkable consensus and singleness of purpose among students, faculty and administrators at MIT.

Last spring, a petition requesting MIT to sever its ties with ROTC by 1994, if the discriminatory policy did not change, garnered about 2500 signatures from all members of the MIT community.

In an undergraduate student referendum, a majority of those who voted and who expressed

an opinion favored suspending MIT's participation in ROTC within four years, if the policy on sexual orientation were still in effect.

On April 10, the provost of MIT, John M. Deutch '61, a DOD insider for many years, wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, in which he criticized DOD policy on sexual orientation and deplored efforts to recoup scholarship funds from ROTC cadets disenrolled for being gay.

A resolution asserting the principle that either ROTC or its ban on sexual minorities would have to go passed the MIT faculty with administration support by a nearly unanimous voice vote on May 16.

The new faculty resolution has the unanimous support of the MIT Faculty Policy Committee and of the president's standing Committee on ROTC, which represents all sectors of the Institute.

It has received strong endorsements from the Undergraduate Association, from the president and provost of MIT, and from the Chairman of the MIT Corporation. Finally, the faculty approved the resolution with no dissenting votes: It fell short by only two abstentions of total unanimity.

1/3 The resolution provides other schools with a blueprint for responsible action on the issue of sexual exclusion in ROTC.

If MIT, much of whose operating budget comes from the DOD and whose students currently receive between $3 million to $4 million annually in ROTC scholarship support, can unite behind such a measure, surely any college or university in the country can do the same.

The MIT resolution outlines a plan of action that is at once principled and practical, that commits MIT right now to work for change but does not tie MIT's hands in the future. It is therefore the sort of plan that university trustees can pledge themselves to implement now without ruling out flexible response to as-yet-unanticipated developments in the future.

It should, and I believe it will, be widely imitated by other colleges and universities in the months ahead.

The military continues to pursue its discriminatory policy ruthlessly and vindictively. In 1984 the Navy, seeking to recoup $25,000 from a midshipman who had been forced by systematic harassment to drop out of NROTC at the University of Pennsylvania, placed a lien on the home of his parents, who discovered in this manner that their son was gay.

And only recently, a 19 year-old Marine Corps servicewoman, suspected of being a lesbian, targeted by a military investigation, and threatened with all sorts of punishments if she did not reveal the names of her friends, unable to face her parents and unwilling to betray her comrades, took her own life with a service-issue firearm.

How long must we wait before colleges and universities will take steps to protect students, their parents, and the quality of campus life from such institutionalized harassment? The time to act is now.

David M. Halperin->

Professor of Literature->

Faculty Advisor->

Defeat Discrimination->

at MIT->