ROTC Ponders Future of GaysBy Karen Kaplan
Little will change for the ROTC at MIT if President Clinton succeeds in lifting the ban which prohibits homosexuals from serving in the military, interviews with ROTC administrators, cadets, and midshipmen indicate.
In fact, the 244 students in ROTC units here would be most threatened if Clinton is unwilling or unable to lift the ban, sources say. If the military persists in refusing to allow homosexuals to serve, ROTC's future at MIT would be in jeopardy.
If the ban is lifted, there would be "no effect," said Capt. Michael E. Field, a visiting professor of naval science and director of Navy ROTC, in which over half of all ROTC students are enrolled. "There would be an effect if the ban were not lifted."
In the fall of 1990, the Institute and determined that the military's ban on homosexuals is inconsistent with MIT's nondiscrimination policy. The faculty passed a resolution which said that "inadequate progress toward eliminating the [Defense Department's] policy on sexual orientation will result in ... making ROTC unavailable to students beginning with the class entering in 1998." The administration has not made any final decision on the fate of ROTC, however.
In April 1990 then-Provost John M. Deutch '61 wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney criticizing the ROTC policy on homosexuals. "The policy discriminates against students on the basis of sexual orientation, in contradiction to the policy of MIT and many other universities," he wrote.
Some changes already made
Changes have already been made in the Air Force ROTC units. "Following President Clinton's news conference on Jan. 29, we in Air Force ROTC are no longer asking questions about sexual orientation [in semesterly interviews with cadets]. That's a change from what we were doing previously," said Col. Ronald P. Craigie, a visiting professor of aerospace studies and director of Air Force ROTC.
But aside from that, "I can't even speculate what impact [lifting the ban] would have on the program at MIT or on ROTC in general," Craigie continued. "We have to let it play out. The policy is being studied by the DoD, and a report is expected in the June timeframe."
Army ROTC Director and Professor of Military Science Col. Gerald T. Wellman was attending a conference in Fort Devens this week and was not available for comment.
Administrators and students also agreed that there would be little effect if the ban were lifted. "We anticipate no changes at MIT if the DoD changes its policies regarding sexual orientation and serving in the military," said Provost Mark S. Wrighton.
He said MIT supports "President Clinton's stated intentions on changing the policy, and it is evident that progress is possible within the next several months."
"I know that gay students have joined ROTC in the past and I imagine that [if the ban were lifted] students who know they're gay when they come to MIT could now join ROTC [without signing a statement]," said Margaret S. Enders, an administrator for the Committee on ROTC. "What that would do to enrollment is anybody's guess."
However, Enders emphasized that whatever the outcome of the ban, enrollment in ROTC would probably be dropping in the coming years because of factors like budget cuts, reduced scholarship opportunities, and a general downsizing of the military.
Most of the students interviewed for this story said they had no opinion about how ROTC would be affected if the ban on gays in the military were lifted, and many were reluctant to comment.
Chad M. Brooks '94, a midshipman in Navy ROTC, said he had "no perception of how it would effect ROTC," and said he had "no further comment."
Melinda A. Moss '95, also in Navy ROTC, said she had "no opinion" either about the ban on gays in the military or how its demise would effect MIT.
Charles T. Curtis Jr. '95, another NROTC midshipman, said in his opinion, "I don't think [lifting the ban] would effect ROTC too much. I think the biggest effect would be that it would change what schools think of ROTC." For example, if the ban were lifted, people at Harvard would look more favorably upon ROTC, but the impact would be smaller at MIT, where "people tend to be more conservative and apathetic," he said.
"I try to deal with people on a professional level, so [whether the ban is lifted] shouldn't have an affect because it's people's performance and not other things that matter," Curtis said.
Views on gays in the military
Despite the very real chance that ROTC could be shut down at MIT if the ban is not lifted, Capt. Field said he does not have an opinion about the military's policy of excluding homosexuals, and would not say whether he supported or opposed the ban.
"The midshipmen don't get into that kind of thinking, and neither does the staff," he said. "We do our job under whatever guidelines the government gives us to do it. If people have strong feelings, they resign."
Col. Craigie also declined to give his personal opinion on the subject.
Wrighton, on the other hand, said MIT was working vigorously to try to reverse the policy, which the Institute views as unwarranted discrimination. "We will continue to make efforts to change the discriminatory policy of the DoD," he said. "ROTC remains a vital component of the DoD enterprise and MIT continues to support the aim of providing on-campus educational opportunities for individuals interested in serving in the military."
Among students in ROTC, the opinions vary as well. "There are students who are in favor of the ban, there are others who feel strongly that it be lifted, and there are many who are in the middle," Field said. "There is not a characteristic feeling among the students."
Capt. Craigie said that although the cadets in Air Force ROTC were "interested" in the status of the ban, he had "no impression" of where they stood.
Curtis carefully worded his personal opinion on the matter. "I think there are some arguments for the ban that are valid, but it's not really clear whether those arguments are strong enough to support the ban." He said he knew of fellow midshipmen on all sides of the issue.
Students from MIT, Harvard, Tufts, and Wellesley are enrolled in ROTC units here.