The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 35.0°F | Fair

Following Debate, ROTC Task Force Revising Proposal

By Daniel C. Stevenson
and Stacey E. Blau
Staff Reporters

A sparsely-attended meeting last night provided a focal point for discussion of proposed changes to the ROTC program.

In a report issued at the March faculty meeting three weeks ago, the ROTCtask force recommended that MIT create a model ROTC program that incorporates gays into all of its aspects.

The task force has been working to revise its recommendations in response to the flurry of criticism and questions voiced since the proposal's release.

The proposal intends to address the conflict between MIT's non-discrimination policy and the Department of Defense's discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays. MIT's relationship with ROTC has been under review for the past several years because of this conflict.

At the two-hour open meeting in Room 34-101 last night, about 15 ROTC task force members and concerned students and faculty members debated the merits of the model plan.

Professor of Management Stephen C. Graves, chair of the ROTC Task Force, opened the meeting with a list of concerns raised about the plan, principal among them the labeling of the plan as "model." Graves said a new, "modified" plan would be presented to the faculty for approval next Wednesday.

The task force was represented by Professor of History William Watson, Frank Tipton G, and Alan C. Pierson '96. Several ROTC students and openly gay students and faculty attended the meeting, as did Professor and Faculty Chair Lawrence S. Bacow and Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates.

"Model" now a "modified" plan

Addressing concerns raised at last month's faculty meeting that the model plan is not desirable or favorable, Graves cast it as a modified plan that is not an ideal solution.

"We don't want to promote this or describe this as a model program," Graves said.

"We now recognize that the ROTC program should be described as modified' rather than model'," Watson said. "As long as the discrimination practice is mandated by law, the ROTC program, no matter how it is reconfigured at MIT, cannot rightfully be called a model' program."

It became clear at last month's faculty meeting that "it was absurd to try to contend that everything was going to by hunky dory," Watson said.

Common goal, different methods

Advocates and opponents of the task force's plan alike agreed that the discrimination in ROTC at MIT is deplorable and must end. They disagreed, however, as to "what really represents a reasonable way of doing that," Bacow said.

Adrian Banard '97, publicity coordinator of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Trangenders, and Friends, said that it was obvious that ROTC should be ended immediately at MIT. The Institute should "take a strong stand and do something strong: The only way to end discrimination on campus permanently is by removing ROTC."

"It's hard to make a moral argument if you're participating in that immorality," Banard said. "It means that we don't really mean it when we say" that ROTC is bad.

Arguing on the side of the task force's plan, Bacow said that expelling ROTC from MIT would make very little long-term difference. "The issue ceases to be a real issue on campus anymore" once the program is gone; the Institute would lose the credibility to push for national change in the discrimination policy.

"We are going to live with something on this campus which we don't like, which is offensive. What we hope we don't do is to make purely a cosmetic change, such as Harvard" did, by simply removing the program but not pushing for national change, Bacow said.

Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Kristina E. Hill said that, as a lesbian, every time she sees a group of ROTC cadets walk by, she is reminded that "someone in Washington thinks I should be ashamed." At Harvard, where Hill did her graduate work, "I don't feel that way because they don't show up. To me that matters; it is not cosmetic."

"We have conflicting interests" of upholding the Institute's anti-discrimination policy and aiding the national interest, Watson said. To abandon the latter and ignore the former would be a "cowardly" solution, Bacow said.

Daniel Skwarek G disagreed that MIT could significantly affect the national debate on ROTC. "It takes a purposeful ignorance of history to suppose that MIT" can influence the government. After all, the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy was crafted even as an MIT graduate was secretary of defense (the late Les Aspin PhD '66) and former Provost John M. Deutch '61 involved in the DoD and the CIA, Skwarek said.

"It is ridiculous to suppose we could at all influence that national policy by our principled stand," Skwarek said. "It seems that the more principled thing to do is to realize that we cannot ourselves affect change" and eliminate ROTC.

Plan meant to keep debate open

Graves refuted some misperceptions of the ultimate goal of the task force's plan. The proposed changes do not attempt to eliminate discrimination in ROTC; "by no means do the changes that we're recommending address the core discrimination," he said.

Instead, the plan's aspiration is that "ROTC on campus would try to adapt the program so it would be more beneficial to all students," Graves said.

As to clear signs of progress, Graves said he hoped there would be "some tangible progress" reported within a two-year time frame. The extended time frame is driven by election-year uncertainty on the part of the DoD. There is also hope that by the close of the time frame, it would be clear whether or not the DoD would be willing to cooperate with the spirit of MIT's plan, Graves said.

If DoD won't cooperate with the Institute or cannot report acceptable progress towards ending discrimination in the entire ROTC program, the ROTC oversight committee would bring the issue back to the faculty, Graves said.

Graves said the task force will make no specific recommendations as to possible future action. "It was the most difficult issue for the task force to agree upon," he said. Members had different views as to what could and should happen, he said. All task force members, including students, will be able to speak at next Wednesday's faculty meeting.