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ROTC Task For Proposal Merits Praise

Guest Column by Christopher J. Sarton

I have seen many, lengthy arguments against the ROTC task force's recommendation, but I have not seen much support for the job that the task force has done. I would like to take this chance to give my personal views on the issue. I am in favor of their decision and applaud the lengths to which they have gone to see both sides of the issue and gather facts.

I think the task force has come up with a good solution to a very difficult problem. Compromise must be sought, and this is a step in the right direction; admitting open gays into the military cannot be done overnight or even in a few years. The women's suffrage movement took many years to earn results, and they are only now being allowed in to the combat arms of the various services. The same has occurred with African-Americans and other ethnic and racial groups. I hope that gays and lesbians get the rights they deserve and soon, but neither throwing ROTC off campus nor keeping it unchanged will do anything to solve this problem.

The resolution, if it passed, would not eliminate all discrimination or allow open gays into the military immediately, but it would send a strong message to the Department of Defense that a compromise can be attained. The Institute takes the initial step of allowing gays into the ROTC program while maintaining its influence with the government and working toward the ultimate objective of full inclusion.

In my opinion, removing ROTC would do more harm than good in MIT's attempt to influence the DoD. I think that action would sever any chance at all to influence further policy making involving gays and the military. What kind of bargaining power does MIT have with no ROTC on campus? Zero. Bargaining power is what the Institute needs. In a difficult decision, you cannot expect someone to comply by simply punishing them after they refuse to do something. You have to get both parties to sit down and talk it out - explain the pros and cons of the issue, collect facts (as the task force has done), and negotiate in a rational manner.

What if MIT throws ROTC off campus and several years down the line, the DoD allows openly gay people into the military? If the DoD decides to return ROTC to campus, it would have to rebuild the entire student-run organization from scratch. There would be no experienced upperclassmen to assume the leadership roles that are part of the ROTC program. But what if the DoD decides not to return ROTC to campus? MIT will have completely eliminated one method for students to afford MIT. One of the reasons young men and women choose to enter the ROTC program is to be able to afford a college they want to attend. Gay scholars who cannot afford MIT would have one less method for attending this prestigious institute.

Several articles and the task force's recommendation have mentioned the "citizen soldier" principle, and I would like to touch on this as well. It is my opinion that a military that draws its officers from the civilian population is much more stable than one that draws them from a military elite like an exclusive class of society. One has only to check history to see examples of this. If all campuses were to end their ROTC programs, where would officers come from? They would all be graduates of the academies, which impart little of the diversity that all college campuses provide.

There is a darker aspect to the elimination of ROTC on this campus: What about the colleges without a strong anti-discrimination policy? They are not going to throw ROTC off campus, and what kind of people would their atmosphere harbor? If these campuses were the only ones to maintain ROTC, many officers in the military would be biased and prejudiced against any sort of inclusion of gays into the military - exactly the situation many are trying to change. It is therefore necessary to maintain ROTC on campus.

I believe that this campus engenders a very tolerant view on life and its diversity, and that is the kind of outlook I want U.S. military officers and government officials to have. Officials and officers who have been exposed to different lifestyles are more likely to carry on the fight to admit gays and lesbians into the military once they attain higher rank in the military and government.

I have tried to show some of the problems I see in completely removing ROTC from campus and why the task force's resolution is intelligent, forward-moving, and fair. ROTC's removal would completely eliminate any further influence MIT has in the debate on allowing gays into the military. If MIT did throw ROTC off campus, it might never come back even if the policy changed - and this would hinder gay students who are not able to afford MIT but would like to join the military to pay their way through college. The termination of ROTC would also weaken the "citizen soldier" basis for our military and increase the number of people in the military who do discriminate against homosexuals. It should be understood that the resolution is not the solution, but rather an opening move in the negotiations to allow homosexuals into the military.

I would like to close with a plug aimed at the faculty. The vote on the resolution is rapidly approaching, and I would like to encourage them to participate. I do not want to tell them how to vote - I just want them to vote. I would much rather have a decision that affects a large portion of campus made by ninety percent of the faculty than by a mere ten or twenty percent. For those who think they do not know enough to make an informed decision, the task force has published several reports on ROTC and MIT, and these reports are available on the World-Wide Web. So I hope they go out and vote for what they believe in.