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ROTC Task Force's Proposals Inadequate

Guest Column by Robert N. Wedgwood

In spite of their superficial attractions, the recommendations outlined in the "Final Report of the ROTC Task Force" are totally misconceived and should not, under any circumstances, be adopted by the faculty.

"Some of our sister institutions," the report says, "have decided to distance themselves from ROTC, in order to remove the conflict from campus We recommend a different course for MIT. We propose that MIT work with the [Department of Defense] to create a model ROTC program that is more inclusive and more aligned with the values and mission of MIT." The idea is to take advantage of the fact that almost all ROTC subjects are open to all MIT students, even if, on account of being openly gay, they have no hope of being commissioned. If a student completes all of the ROTC subjects that would be required in order to receive a commission, ROTC commanders could write a letter stating that they have done so. So, in this sense, they could be said to have "enrolled in an ROTC program." The report says that they could also "participate in all parts of the program without discrimination or differential treatment" - for example (if the DoD kindly agrees) they could be allowed to wear the same uniforms as students who are expected to receive commissions.

This proposal will not improve the lot of gay students in any meaningful way. Since you cannot get MIT credit for ROTC subjects, the only point of taking such subjects ("enrolling in a ROTC program") is to receive a commission to serve as a junior officer in the Armed Forces. So it is still the case that any gay students enrolled in these programs will have to remain deeply closeted if they are to achieve any meaningful career goals through enrolling in the program.

More seriously, the proposal only touches on the most trivial aspects of discrimination (such as uniforms), leaving the serious forms of discrimination totally untouched. Indeed, there is no way in which MIT can change the serious forms of discrimination, which are required by federal law. Even if MIT ensures that the ROTC commanders here are totally opposed to the military's policy on homosexuals, these ROTC commanders are required, by the rigorous requirements of martial law, to take note of any evidence that comes to light of a student's homosexuality, so that this evidence may be used to deny the student an ROTC scholarship or an ROTC commission. So, even in a "model ROTC program" the serious forms of discrimination will continue unabated.

But there is worse to come. The whole idea of a model ROTC program requires the MIT administration to collaborate, more closely than before, with the ROTC commanders, so that the administration can ensure that our ROTC program is a model of inclusiveness and the "citizen soldier" principle. The inevitable consequence is that the MIT administration will be more closely involved in the implementation of discrimination. The report calls for an ROTC oversight committee, consisting of full-fledged members of MIT faculty, appointed by the president of the Institute. Page 12 of the report proposes that "The chairman of the oversight committee, along with a representative of the dean for undergraduate education and student affairs, will serve on any inquiry into the homosexual conduct of an MIT ROTC cadet called by any of the commanders of ROTC units."

Let us be clear about what is proposed here. Members of the MIT faculty, the president, and appointed members of committees of the Institute will be charged with the task of sifting evidence regarding the homosexual conduct of MIT students. The professors of MIT who serve on these committees will be required to scrutinize the evidence of students' unguarded remarks or misdirected e-mails to determine whether or not MIT students are gay, or whether they have engaged in homosexual conduct. If these MIT officers determine that the evidence warrants the conclusion that a student is gay, then they will have to set their seal of approval on an inquiry whose purpose is to punish this student for allowing his or her homosexuality to become known. The purpose of such an inquiry would be to strip the student of an ROTC scholarship, possibly to order the student to reimburse the DoD for tens of thousands of dollars of scholarship money, and ensure that the student cannot pursue his or her chosen career, for the sole reason that he or she is gay. The MIT professors who are appointed, by the Institute administration, to sit on these committees will play an active role in carrying out the discrimination that is practiced by the ROTC. What the report proposes is nothing less than thorough-going Institute complicity in ROTC discrimination.

Is that what it meant on the front page of the Bulletin, where it says, "MIT does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, employment policies, scholarship or loan programs and other institute administered programs and activities?" Or was I wrong to think that the statement of non-discrimination puts any limits on what the MIT administration would ever instruct its officials to do?

Robert N. Wedgwood is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT.