Task force looks at conflict in ROTC, Institute policy conflictBy Stacey E. Blau
The ROTC task force, formed in October to review ROTC's policy of discrimination against homosexuals, is scheduled to recommend to the faculty in March a course of action for the Institute.
The Institute's non-discrimination policy - protecting MIT students, faculty, and staff from discriminatikon based on sexual orientation - directly conflicts with the ROTC policy.
"This is a very emotional issue," said Assistant for Government Relations in the Office of the President Sarah E. Gallop. "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 would be upset to see it go, she said.
A faculty resolution in 1990 created the impetus for the formation of a working group to monitor the progress of change to the Department of Defense's policy on gays in the military.
The task force represents the final stage of the evaluation process. At the end of the working group's five-year term, the task force was created with the charge of gathering information and community input on ROTC. Based on their recommendation, the MIT faculty will decide in March whether to keep ROTC at MIT.
President Charles M. Vest appointed Professor of Management Stephen C. Graves to chair the task force.
In addition to Graves and Gallop, the task force's members include Professor of the History of Science Kenneth R. Manning, Professor of Ocean Engineering J. Kim Vandiver PhD '75, and Professor of History and Baker House Housemaster William B. Watson. Since its inception, the group has added an additional faculty member, Professor of Biology Lisa A. Steiner, and two students, Alan E. Pierson '96 and Frank P. Tipton G.
Task force enters input phase
The task force is currently switching from gathering information to soliciting community input.
"Individual task force members are going to hear different things and react in different ways," but informed community debate will play a vital role in the decision process, Graves said.
The task force has gotten a jump start on its input-gathering. During most of the group's weekly meetings over the past few months, "we've been accompanied by a guest" who contributes to the discussion, Graves said.
The task force met with members of the ROTC Oversight Committee and Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders, and Friends at MIT. It also met with students at an Undergraduate Association Council meeting in November.
In addition to forums, the task force plans to meet with members of ROTC division and a subset of the Corporation, including chairman Paul E. Gray '54. The Corporation will make the ultimate decision on ROTC's fate.
The task force's homepage, http://web.mit.edu/committees/rotc/, includes a history of ROTC, the 1990 Faculty Resolution, Vest's charge to the task force, a list of the working group's activities, and MIT's statement of nondiscrimination.
Task force lays out options
At the end of January, the task force drew up an interim report on its work "to disseminate the information we have so far on the issue," Graves said. "Our hope is to put out information that provides a basis for people to learn about the issue - why this is an important issue for MIT."
The report laid out a range of options on what could be done with MIT's ROTC program: maintain the status quo, sever all ties to ROTC, postpone action until the courts have ruled on DoD policy, create an arms-length relationship with ROTC, or bar ROTC from MIT but create cross-town arrangements with other ROTC programs.
"The task force at this point hasn't started to argue or talk about actual recommendations," Graves said. The committee is listening to what groups have to say, but "we're not trying to make judgments on the arguments."
In selecting people for the committee, "we've sort of avoided people who came to us with a mission. We looked for people with an open mind to try to figure out what was the best thing for MIT to do."
Faculty will likely vote in April
"I feel we're reasonably on schedule. But the next month is obviously very, very critical in terms of engaging the community and gaining their input," Graves said.
The task force is planning to present a final report and recommend a course of action at the March faculty meeting. The faculty will discuss the report and recommendation and likely vote on the options at its April meeting. The faculty's recommendation will be voted on subsequently by the Corporation.
The 1990 faculty resolution stipulated that the task force work "with the expectation that inadequate progress [of the government] toward eliminating the DoD policy" will result in "making ROTC unavailable to students beginning with the class entering in 1998."
But Vandiver said that the faculty's 1990 opinion is "in no way binding. The faculty will amend it to do whatever it wants to do."
When the resolution was passed, the faculty was "poorly informed" about the "very, very divisive" issue of ROTC, Vandiver said. At the time, there was no clear-cut opinion shared by the faculty on what should be done with ROTC.
"I think it's hard to say at this point if there will be the same divisiveness and anger," Graves said. "So far we haven't seen any, but to the extent that the debate and decision become more imminent, there is the potential for increasing tension."
"We have yet to find a win-win solution that makes everyone happy. I don't think that exists," he said. "In looking at what other universities have done, I don't think they've found a totally satisfactory solution."
Outside factors won't affect MIT
Some recent policy changes in the DoD could threaten funding to universities that drop ROTC. About 20 percent of MIT's research funding comes from the DoD.
But MIT officials have roundly denied that any such threat will influence MIT's ultimate decision concerning ROTC.
"There is no relationship between ROTC and DoD funding," said former Provost Mark S. Wrighton, who chaired the working group before he left MIT last spring to become chancellor of Washington University.
The main funding concern centers around the financial support that the current 102 ROTC students receive and the potential impact of the decision on their scholarships.
Vandiver said that the elimination of ROTC would not adversely affect the financial status of current ROTC students. "MIT would have to take up the financial slack" for ROTC students, he said.
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. The school now pays the MIT ROTC fee with unsolicited alumni donations earmarked for the program, enabling eligible Harvard students to continue to participate in the program.
Harvard's decision will have no impact on MIT's policy, Gallop said. The Institute is concerned solely with how ROTC "is impacting on students at MIT," she said.
Task force picks up from working group
The task force picks up after the working group, which spent five years examining ROTC.
Through surveys, meetings, policy endorsements, and advertisements, the working 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.
After that announcement, the group did nothing to oppose actively the government's policy on homosexuals in the military, Gallop said. Instead, it observed the implementation of the policy, she said.
It would have been "imprudent to act" before seeing how the new policy works, Gallop said.