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ROTC Ban on Gays Faces Reversal under Clinton

By Hyun Soo Kim
Associate News Editor

Bill Clinton's victory on Tuesday may render moot the controversy over the ban on gays in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), a Department of Defense policy which conflicts with MIT's nondiscrimination policy. If Clinton ends the ban, MIT will continue to allow the three ROTC units to remain on campus, according to MIT officials.

Reversing the military's gay ban has been one of Clinton's campaign promises. "Clinton has said publicly that he would reverse the directive, which means the change could be as simple as signing an executive order. . . . Also, groups [including MIT] that have been following the issue will provide pressure on the Clinton administration," said Sarah E. Gallop, staff person of the ROTC Working Group at MIT.

The current DoD policy bars homosexuals, lesbians, and bisexuals from serving in the military. The Navy, Army, and Air Force ROTC units at MIT are required to follow this policy. Gay students cannot be commissioned for ROTC and students who are found to be gay are disenrolled from the program in all three ROTC units at MIT.

"Under the current Air Force ROTC policy, which follows from the DoD policy, we are unable to commission homosexuals. If an individual came in and said I am gay, we would be required to disenroll the person," said Colonel Ronald P. Craigie, visiting professor and head of aerospace studies.

ROTC "is a contractual agreement for an individual to meet certain prerequisites that they know up front as part of a contract," said Lt. Col. Gerald T. Wellman of the Army ROTC unit.

MIT reviewing policy

MIT has been reviewing the discrepancy between the gay ban in ROTC and MIT's nondiscrimination policy. According to Gallop, in October 1990, the faculty addressed the issue of discrimination against homosexuals in the ROTC program and recommended that MIT should try to change the DoD policy. The MIT ROTC Working Group was established at that time to try to change the DoD policy.

The Working Group has been planning to present a report to the faculty on any significant progress in 1995. If progress at that time is not sufficient, the faculty would then recommend discontinuing ROTC for students entering in 1998.

MIT is the host school to ROTC students from Harvard University, Tufts University, and Wellesley College; these schools do not have ROTC on campus. Harvard ROTC students now cross-register at MIT for non-credit, required ROTC courses. Harvard pays a fee to MIT for accommodating their students. Last year, Harvard payed $128,125 to MIT for cross-registering 78 Harvard students in MIT ROTC units.

On September 30, the Harvard Committee on the Status of ROTC issued a report that recommended that Harvard discontinue the current relationship with ROTC due to the gay ban. The committee recommended to end funding to MIT beginning with the class entering in 1994, while continuing to pay for the cadets enrolled before 1994 until their graduation.

However, the committee also recommended that Harvard students continue to accept ROTC scholarships. "ROTC discriminates, and if a student wants to join, it is the student's decision, but Harvard shouldn't be supporting a program which discriminates. It is in no way an attempt to save money or to deprive MIT of anything," said Sidney Verba, the chair of the Harvard Committee on the Status of ROTC.

Clinton may determine outcome

If Clinton signs an executive order to end the gay ban in the military, or if the new Secretary of Defense issues a new directive, then the recommendations of the Harvard committee and the MIT faculty resolution will be irrelevant.

Provost Mark S. Wrighton, chair of the ROTC Working Group, said that if Clinton fulfills his promise, ROTC will stay on campus. "MIT is receptive to having ROTC on campus," Wrighton said.

"If the new administration eliminates the ban on gays in the military. . . then Harvard will probably go back to the situation as it currently exists," Verba said.

If Clinton does not end the gay ban quickly, lobby groups and the mainstream media will pressure him about the issue, said Robert J. Adams, the legislative assistant to Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.), who has been active in opposing the gay ban policy.

"One thing I have some confidence in [is that] the military is very order-oriented, so if the guy on top tells [the military] what to do, they have to comply," Adams said.

Group working against ban

The ROTC Working Group has been lobbying the current administration and Congress to change the policy. MIT has also been working with lobbying groups such as the American Council of Education and with other universities.

A representative of a group of 15 colleges, including MIT, met with Dr. Christopher Jehn, a Defense Department assistant secretary, in January of last year and discussed the policy. According to Gallop, Jehn said the Pentagon would not change the gay ban policy, but that it was interested in creating a committee of DoD and university administrators to discuss the issue.

In addition, MIT has supported Rep. Patricia Schroeder's (D-Colo.) bill to end the gay ban in the military.

A decision to end ROTC at MIT would be a difficult choice, as many of MIT's faculty support ROTC, according to Margaret S. Enders, assistant dean for undergraduate education. Many MIT students receive scholarships from ROTC. For example, 95 percent of the cadets in the Air Force detachment at MIT have some form of scholarships. "It is to the student's benefit to have the [ROTC] program here. It benefits the country to have students of this caliber in the military," said Arthur C. Smith, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs.

In the Navy, half of the officers are trained by ROTC every year. In the Army, three fourths of the officers are recruited from ROTC. "MIT makes a substantial contribution to the welfare of the country by having students get a perspective on the military," said Capt. M. E. Field, Commanding Officer of MIT's Naval ROTC.