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MIT Moves Ahead With ROTC Changes

By Dan McGuire
news editor

Seven months after the faculty voted to implement a modified ROTC program to incorporate homosexuals into all of its aspects, administrators are drawing up proposed changes to MIT's ROTC program and are pressing their case to federal officials and the courts.

Under the Department of Defense's current "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy, ROTC discriminates against homosexuals, violating MIT's non-discrimination policy which protects MIT students, faculty, and staff from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Institute's policy on ROTC had been under review for years because of this conflict. The task force was formed last October as part of a 1990 faculty resolution to continue examining the Institute's policy on ROTC. The task force's job was to formulate a plan that would deal with this conflict in a satisfactory manner.

The task force's final report, issued in March and approved by the faculty in April, called for MIT to create a "model program" that would try to incorporate gays into all of its parts.

The tag was changed to "modified" after debate at the March faculty meeting. "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," said Associate Professor of History William B. Watson at the time.

The MIT community was split on its opinion of the task force's recommendations. Many lauded the innovative plan the task force proposed and the middle ground it tried to strike, but others questioned whether or not the plan could be implemented successfully in the face of the DoD's policy of discrimination.

"We're sort of in the middle of discussing the recommendations [of the ROTC task force], it's really our principal activity," said Sarah E. Gallop, assistant for government relations in the president's office.

"Some of them can be implemented rather swiftly," she said. At the end of the year, "we'll have a range of things to report." The task force specified a two-year window in which to implement the its recommendations. A mid-term report on the progress that has been made will come next April.

As of now, the task force's recommendations have yet to cause any real change. "From my perspective, there has been no impact," said Col. William Rutley, commander of the ROTC Air Force unit at MIT.

Two committees deal with ROTC

Since the dissolution of the ROTCtask force, two committees deal with ROTC at MIT. The ROTC Oversight Committee, chaired by Watson, is charged with overseeing the day-to-day affairs of ROTC and contains faculty members and students.

"The oversight committee will always exist," Gallop said. "There's got to be somebody that exists as a liaison between" the ROTC program and the faculty, she said.

The second committee is the ROTC implementation team organized by President Charles M. Vest in August. The team will be chaired by Associate Provost Phillip L. Clay and will consist of Gallop, Watson, Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates, and Professor of Ocean Engineering J. Kim Vandiver PhD '75.

The implementation team will be responsible for advocating changes in DoD policy at a national level, building relationships with other universities, and making changes in the way ROTC works at MIT.

One "set of actions has to do with the DoD - things that we would like to do but have to ask permission" for, such as allowing homosexual students to wear military uniforms and attend leadership laboratory classes, Gallop said.

Members of the implementation team have had meetings with DoD officials and have filed a report with the Secretary of Defense. "The Air Force and the Pentagon are discussing MIT's report," Rutley said. "But the Air Force, like the rest of DoD, is constrained by the law."

"I can't predict where this will go, but I think the engagement is positive, the discussion is open," Rutley said. "The conversations that are taking place seem to be quite reasonable."

MIT has won a lot of points by engaging the problem the way it has, Rutley said. MIT has stuck to its principles and is working with the administration and Congress, he added.

Gallop refused to comment on MIT's advocacy efforts.

The Institute is still pursuing a solution that will come through a Supreme Court decision on ROTC, Gallop said. If there is an appropriate case, MIT will file an amicus brief in support of the side aiming to overturn the policy.

One of the cases listed as possible cases to support in the ROTC task force's interim report was not considered by the Supreme Court. Several others are currently in the docket, and MIT will continue to track them. "The timing has to be right, and the case has to be right," Gallop said.

ROTC program may change

The implementation team will also begin changing MIT's own ROTC program in accordance with the ROTC task force's final report.

"There are a number of MIT actions that need to be implemented," Gallop said. The Institute in its official publications often emphasizes its nondiscrimination policy and notes that its programs are open to all students. The implementation will involve ensuring the statement is an accurate reflection of MIT's policy, she said.

MIT also will begin "interviewing prospective officer candidates to make sure that they share our concern for a non-discriminatory, inclusive program," Gallop said.

Students involved in disenrollment proceedings from ROTC because of their homosexuality will get support from the Dean's Office and the ROTC Oversight Committee, who will send representatives to any hearings or meetings.

MIT is pushing for "more leadership training for folks who will not become commissioned offers," Rutley said.

"We are coming up with programs that may run during IAP. Leadership applies no matter who you are and what you're doing," he said.

MIT will pick up financial aid

Students in ROTC receive financial aid for taking part in the program, but if they are disenrolled, that money is lost.

Vandiver, who chairs the Committee on Undergraduate Financial Aid, said that students dropped by ROTC for any reason can expect the lost financial aid to covered by MIT.

A problem arises because "the ROTC scholarships often substantially exceed average need," Vandiver said. "They receive scholarships larger than they would from MIT."

"The MIT formula would give you $10,000, and ROTC would give you $20,000," Vandiver said. "Who replaces the extra $10,000?"

"The Committee on Undergraduate Financial Aid will oversee a reinsurance policy," Gallop said. "If a student is homosexual and makes his or her homosexuality known and thus has to sever ties with ROTC, then MIT would somehow work with that student to minimize the impact of that loss."

The likely implementation for reinsurance is that funds beyond the need-based financial aid package would be supplied as Institute loans, "which could be forgiven upon completion of appropriate of public service," Vandiver said.

"What we don't want to do is create a whole new bureaucracy" to deal with this problem, Vandiver said. "We want it to be able to function within the existing bureaucracy with a twist at the end - that the loans will be forgiven."