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Harvard Ends ROTC Support over Policy on Homosexuals

By Stacey E. Blau
Associate News Editor

Harvard University will cease direct financial support of the ROTC program at the end of the academic year, according to an announcement last Wednesday from the Harvard Office of the President.

Harvard presently pays MIT about $130,000 each year to allow Harvard students to participate in the program, which is run at MIT.

The announcement comes in response to years of discussion about Harvard's financial support of ROTC. The program, which discriminates against students on the basis of their sexual orientation, violates Harvard's and MIT's non-discrimination policies.

Last week's announcement expanded on Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine's Nov. 23 proposal that suggested Harvard pay the MIT ROTC fee with unsolicited alumni donations earmarked for the program.

This plan would enable eligible students to continue to participate in the program. Harvard would have no involvement in the collection and distribution of the alumni funds but would hold the funds in a special account, Rudenstine said.

Disagreement dates back to 1969

The debate on ROTC at Harvard dates back to 1969, when the university withdrew the program's curricular and academic status in response to protests against the Vietnam War.

To compensate, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted in 1976 to allow Harvard students to participate in ROTC at MIT. In 1984 Harvard began to reimburse MIT for the additional costs.

In 1989, Harvard student David E. Carney was dismissed from ROTC after he admitted to a commanding officer that he was gay. That same year, MIT student Robert L. Bettiker '90 was also dismissed after he admitted to an officer that he was homosexual.

In 1990, the FAS endorsed a statement recommending that Harvard end its affiliation with ROTC if the federal government did not resolve "issues of discrimination."

Last year, Harvard faculty members reaffirmed their stance that the government's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals violated Harvard's non-discrimination policy.

The policy protects members of the military from being questioned about their sexual orientation but does not ban discrimination against homosexuals in the military.

Mixed reaction to proposal

Harvard student groups, including the Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Student Alliance and the Civil Liberties Union, say that they are satisfied with the proposal, according to a Feb. 1 article in The Harvard Crimson.

But several other Harvard groups, as well as faculty members, have criticized the plan. Carney, now a student at the Harvard Business School, is dissatisfied with the proposal. "My emotional response to this proposal is disappointment," he said in the Crimson.

"It seems as though [Rudenstine] is trying to get around the university's commitment to only support activities that don't discriminate," Carney said.

Alumni are also split in opinion over the proposal. Some still think that Harvard's ties with a military-affiliated program like ROTC are inappropriate, according to the Crimson. But others view the decision as a reasonable compromise. Many alumni have offered to lend financial support to continue Harvard's participation in the program, according to the Crimson.

MIT still undecided

The ties to ROTC also violate MIT's non-discrimination policy. MIT presently has a working group which is "monitoring the implementation" of the government's policy at MIT and will report on its findings in the fall of 1995, according to Sarah E. Gallop, assistant for government relations in the president's office. A faculty resolution in October 1990 provided the impetus for the formation of the group.

Gallop said that the Harvard decision has no impact on MIT and the Institute is concerned solely with how the "don't ask, don't tell" policy "is impacting on students at MIT."

President Charles M. Vest will appoint a task force after the working group makes its report. The task force will recommend what action MIT should take in regard to ROTC.

If MIT chooses to sever all ties with ROTC, the class of 1998 will be the first class ineligible to participate in the program, and MIT will have to start giving notice of the change starting in 1996.

Gallop said that while ending discrimination against homosexuals is a goal of the Institute, MIT sees the "don't ask, don't tell" policy "as a step forward."

Bettiker says that he is satisfied with the Harvard decision. "I thought it was a good stop-gap decision for the short-term," he said.

Bettiker said that he thinks that "if all the other avenues have been exhausted," and the alternative is procrastination, then MIT should discontinue its association with ROTC.

Bettiker also said that MIT could refuse to grant credit for ROTC courses, deny faculty membership to ROTC professors, or push for the relocation of the ROTC program to Boston University as smaller efforts to weaken Institute ties to the program.