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As ROTC Group Ends Works, Difference on Gays Policy Looms

By Stacey E. Blau
News Editor

As the five-year term of the MIT ROTCworking group nears its close next month, the question of what MIT plans to do with its ROTC program lingers.

ROTCdiscriminates against

The Institute's policy on ROTC has been under review because of this conflict. After a faculty resolution in October 1990, the working group was formed to change the federal government's discriminatory policy on homosexuals in the military,

Group tries to change policy

Through surveys, meetings, policy endorsements, and advertisements, the group worked "for the reversal of the policy" against homosexuals, until the Clinton Administration's 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" decision, Gallop said.

At the time the working group was formed, members of the military could be asked about their sexual orientation and be dismissed from the military if they were gay.

In January 1993, President Clinton announced the federal government's new policy, which protects members of the military from being questioned about their sexual orientation but does not ban discrimination against homosexuals in the military.

Since that year, the group has done nothing to actively oppose the government's policy on homosexuals in the military, Gallop said. Instead, it has been "observing the implementation" of the policy, she said.

"It would be imprudent to act" before we see how the new policy works, Gallop said.

The working group includes Gallop, Director of Special Services Stephen D. Immerman, Professor of the History of Science Kenneth R. Manning, and Professor of Ocean Engineering J. Kim Vandiver PhD '75, former chair of the faculty. The committee was chaired by former Provost Mark S. Wrighton, but no one filled the post when he left MIT last spring to head Washington University in St. Louis.

Group makes progress with policy

"The group has, in my opinion, done a good job grappling with a very complex situation," Vandiver said.

An important part of the working group's job has been to keep track of the initiatives with regard to the Department of Defense policy around the country, Vandiver said. "Much of the MIT work has been behind the scenes in letters from the president and provost to members of Congress" and to the DoD, he said.

"The positive element of the Clinton policy is that the emphasis has been placed on personnel performance and behavior, not sexual orientation," Wrighton said. "But the Clinton administration failed to fully satisfy those of us concerned with the policy of the DoD."

The courts might finally resolve the issue, Wrighton said. But "that process is one which is sluggish."

"The benefits [of ROTC] are considerable, and I would favor sustaining efforts to change DoD policy while preserving the outstanding opportunities for our students."

"At the present time there are some important test cases in the courts," Vandiver said. "I think we should take no action with respect to our own ROTC programs until the courts have acted."

ROTC funding, emotions at stake

Considerations of the value ROTC has in general, as well as the question of ROTC scholarship funding for students currently in the program, will complicate the eventual decision, Gallop said.

"This is a very emotional issue," she said. "There is a very strong sentiment that ROTC has a lot of value." MIT boasts the country's oldest Army ROTC unit, established in 1917, and many people would be upset to see it go, she said.

While Wrighton said that "there is no relationship between ROTC and DoD research funding," scholarship funds for ROTC students could be jeopardized depending on the decision whether or not to keep the program.

The Solomon Amendment, proposed in Congress earlier this year by Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-New York), would have authorized cutting federal funding to universities which eliminated ROTC programs. The amendment failed in Congress but might have threatened MIT's research funding had it passed. About 20 percent of MIT funding comes from the DoD, according to the Office of Sponsored Programs.

Gallop said that MIT's final decision about whether to keep or jettison the ROTC program will not be affected by research funding considerations.

Task force to advise Vest

At the October faculty meeting, Chair of the Faculty Lawrence S. Bacow and President Charles M. Vest will likely appoint a task force slated to begin work when the working group completes its five year term at the end of the month, Bacow said.

The task force will review the work of the working group and do its own research about ROTC, Gallop said. It will make recommendations to Vest about what action MIT should take with regard to the ROTC program, probably in the spring.

At present, it is unclear if the working group will issue a report to the task force, Gallop said. But the group will communicate its findings to the task force in some way, she said.

Faculty may vote this spring

The faculty could vote on a ROTC resolution this spring, Gallop said.

"It is always very difficult to predict how the faculty will respond on any given question," Bacow said. But the "faculty debate will be substantially influenced by the report of this committee."

"Many faculty were reluctant to take action that would jeopardize the capacity of our ROTC students to finance their education," Bacow said. "I think most faculty appreciate the importance of this support."

But "at the same time, the faculty also expressed strong support for our policy of non-discrimination," he said.

If MIT chooses to sever all ties with ROTC, the Class of 2002 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.

Harvard ceased ROTCsupport

Last February, Harvard University announced it would cease direct financial support of the ROTC program at the end of last year because the program's policy on homosexuals violates Harvard's non-discrimination policy.

Harvard used to pay MIT about $130,000 each year to allow Harvard students to participate in the ROTC program at MIT.

Harvard's decision will have no impact on MIT's policy, Gallop said.