ROTC questions remain:
Resolution does not guaranteeseverance
By Karen Kaplan
Despite moves on campus to reverse the Department of Defense policy barring homosexuals from military service, including participation in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, it still remains to be seen whether a resolution calling for an end to MIT's ties with ROTC will carry any punch.
On Oct. 17, the faculty passed a resolution which provided a five-year period for working to reverse ROTC's anti-gay stance, so that the program will not conflict with MIT's policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
If the military and MIT are still at odds at the end of the five years, the faculty will form a committee to discuss possible actions. The strongest of these options, according the report, is that "ROTC will be made unavailable to students beginning with the class of 1998."
However, assuming that in 1995 the DOD has not changed its ways, it still remains far from certain that MIT's threat to break ties with ROTC will be carried out.
Morrill Act might
One possible obstacle to MIT's efforts is the Morrill Act of 1862, which has provided money for land grant schools such as MIT, "where the leading object shall be, without excluding scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanical arts."
On April 27, 1863, the Massachusetts Legislature approved MIT's charter, including the provision that the "Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in addition to other objects set forth, shall provide for instruction in military tactics."
As MIT is a land, sea and space grant school, the mandate for providing some form of military education is clear. Given this, the question remains whether MIT can legally eliminate ROTC from its campus.
The first Army ROTC unit was not established on campus until 1917, so the fact that MIT existed for 56 years without ROTC suggests that it could go without the program again. But the issue might not be that simple.
Alvin W. Drake '57, chairman of the Committee on ROTC and professor of electrical engineering, said "Although we are required to have some form of military training, [there is] nothing that legally says we have to have a ROTC program."
David M. Halperin, professor of literature and faculty advisor of Defeat Discrimination at MIT, also believes that the Morrill Act "doesn't apply just to ROTC."
But J. Kim Vandiver '75, professor of ocean engineering and incoming faculty chair, who is regarded as an authority on this matter, said he "can't say for sure" whether or not ties with ROTC can be lawfully severed. "Land grant schools have made substantial changes without terrible consequences, but not in a way which drew fire," he said.
However, "a precedent-setting case may come up with another school [which wants to break ties with ROTC]" in the next five years, Vandiver added.
"Maybe there could be trouble" if the Institute tried to get rid of ROTC down the line, Vandiver said, "but if you read Morrill closely, I think you could
Is the faculty's
Another question is whether the faculty's threat to break with ROTC is a serious one.
According to the resolution, at the end of the five-year period, a presidential task force will be created to evaluate how far the military has come in reversing its policy against gay men and lesbians in the service. This task force
will recommend what steps MIT should take next.
If ROTC and the DOD have made even minimal progress -- for example, if they begin an investigation of their own to study the problem -- it is possible that the task force would recommend keeping ROTC on campus for another five years, even though its discriminatory policies had not changed. Conceivably, a pattern of granting five-year extensions could continue for many years, violating MIT's non-discriminatory policy all the while.
"The faculty doesn't want to get rid of ROTC if it doesn't have to," said Stacy M. Hockett '92, a student member of the ROTC committee. "Most of the faculty support ROTC. There is a consensus that ROTC is beneficial, but they also believe that a policy change [on the part of the DOD] would be beneficial too."
Vandiver agreed that "most of the faculty is not looking for reasons" to break ties with ROTC. The resolution represented "a genuine vote to correct an inequity. It was not a vote to get rid of ROTC."
"On the whole, the faculty would probably like to keep ROTC, if we felt we could do so without making a mockery of our commitment to non-discrimination," Halperin said. "Everyone is hoping the military policy will change in five years so we can avoid a showdown," he said.
Halperin added that the resolution's threat will not be taken lightly by the faculty. "What I admire about this resolution
is that there is no price on non-discrimination," he said. "If the military remains intransitive on this issue, we will break ties with ROTC."
the final say
Even if the faculty does take such a definitive stance in 1995, there is still the possibility that the MIT Corporation, which has the sole power to officially eliminate ROTC programs on campus, would refuse to go along with the faculty's recommendations.
Such a problem occurs now with the issue of divesting MIT's holdings from companies which do business in South Africa. Although the faculty and students have made their support of divestment clear, the Corporation has been unwilling to change its anti-divestment position.
Vandiver felt it would be speculative to predict whether the Corporation would go along with the faculty if it voted to break ties with ROTC. "It depends
on how much progress has been made," he said.
"My guess is that if [the faculty decided to end ROTC on campus] tomorrow, the Corporation wouldn't do it," said Hockett. "But five years down the road, it could be a whole different ball game."
Halperin did not see a split between the faculty and the Corporation. "Unlike the divestment issue, this doesn't seem to drive a wedge between the faculty and the trustees," he said. "All sectors seem to be unanimous. The entire Institute is united in its commitment to basic civil rights."
Drake added that because the resolution calls for a dialogue between the faculty and the Corporation over the next five years, the faculty is unlikely to pass a resolution which the Corporation would not support. "We don't expect any huge surprises at the end of the process," he said.