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ROTC Task Force Culls Input From Students at Open Forum

By Stacey E. Blau
News Editor

The ROTC task force met with about 35 people at an open forum for a presentation and discussion of MIT's ROTC program Thursday night in 10-250.

Controversy about the program centers around MIT's non-discrimination policy, which protects MIT students, faculty, and staff from discrimination based on sexual orientation. ROTC violates the policy by discriminating against homosexuals.

The five-month-old task force, which is chaired by Professor of Management Stephen C. Graves, is working to evaluate the place the ROTC program should hold at the Institute.

Next month the task force will make recommendations about what MIT should do with ROTC; the faculty will likely vote on the issue at its April meeting. The final decision lies with the MIT Corporation.

Task force looks for input

The task force is spending the month of February gathering community input for its decision.

Faculty Chair Lawrence S. Bacow opened the forum with an overview of the task force's mission. He spoke of the faculty's 1990 resolution on ROTC, which created the impetus for the formation of the task force.

"The resolution essentially condemned the Department of Defense policy against homosexuals," Bacow said. In the resolution, the faculty said that if "inadequate progress is made in changing the policy, the faculty would move to end ROTC," he said.

But it remains to be seen if the government's 1993 changeover to the Department of Defense's current "don't ask, don't tell" policy qualifies as adequate progress, Bacow said.

The task force, which includes two students, will see how the new policy will hold up in some test cases in the courts. It also is looking at how other universities have dealt with ROTC.

Harvard University, for example, ended direct financial support last year for Harvard students involved in MIT's ROTC program. Harvard now uses alumni contributions to pay its fee to MITto allow its students to participate in the program.

At Dartmouth College, the faculty voted to terminate ROTC, but the decision was overturned by the school's trustees. The Johns Hopkins faculty voted in 1990 to end ROTC in 1995 but later reversed its vote.

Students comment on options

Graves presented a spectrum of options that the committee is using to formulate its discussion about ROTC. The task force also laid out the options in its interim report, which it drew up at the end of January and distributed at the forum.

The task force could recommend to maintain the status quo, to sever all ties to ROTC, to postpone any action, to create some type of arms-length relationship, or to remove ROTC from campus and make cross-town arrangements for students.

Composed mainly of students, the audience voiced strong and at times bitter views on the proposals.

"How can we assume that other schools are going to pick up our slack?" said Gregory Lopez.

Lopez questioned why MIT would want to end ROTC. "Why? To punish us? What have we done? We're not homophobes. We don't go out and gay bash and stuff," he said. "We're just in the military."

It will hurt the the military if students from first-rate schools like MIT are not entering the military. "The nation is the loser," Lopez said.

"I'm for the military. I'm for ROTC," said Christopher K. Merrill '96. "I'm against the discrimination it imposes on me."

"Would you rather have an institution on campus that makes it so that some people are denied the right to participate in it?" Daniel K. Skwarek G said. Homosexuals are "denied the same rights, the same access."

"Even if MIT were to keep ROTC on campus and maybe charge rent, it would still very strongly be sanctioning ROTC," Adrian Banard '97. "In my mind, that would still make MIT a culprit of discrimination."

Some attendees worried that if MIT cut ties with ROTC, it could lose some influence with the DoD. "The DoD is an organization that MIT is intimately involved in and wants to stay involved in," Daniel A. Freedman '98.

Some questioned concerns about funding for ROTC students. "A lot of students come to us and say, I don't want to be in ROTC, but my parents will not pay,'" said Assistant Director in the Student Financial Aid Office Robert E. Weinerman '87. "They shouldn't feel that way. The idea that we won't help those students is a criticism of our financial aid policy. MIT will compensate."

Students vote, prepare to talk

Toward the close of the meeting, members of both sides of the debate talked about sitting down at a forum of their own to have a discussion.

"It's never been encouraged for the two sides to come talk to each other except in a forum through a task force," said Deena S. Disraelly '96. "We are all emotional about this topic."

"Nothing would make the faculty happier than to see both groups try to resolve this problem," Bacow said. "If students are inclined to do this, we encourage it, we embrace it."

At the end of the meeting, the task force polled audience members to see how they would vote on the options. Five voted to maintain the status quo, seven voted to sever all ties to ROTC, eight voted to postpone any action, eight voted to create some type of arms-length relationship, and two voted to remove ROTC from campus and make cross-town arrangements for students.

The task force will be having several meetings in the next few weeks to talk to various constituencies on campus. The group may also talk about having another open forum, Graves said.

This week the task force will begin to actually discuss individual members' views about possible recommendations for next month, something up until this point the group has "not done seriously," Graves said.