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MIT Should Come Clean on ROTC

In its report last month the ROTC Implementation Team briefed the faculty on its progress toward implementing the "modified" ROTC program that the faculty approved last spring. The report highlighted the group's major achievement this year - the official institution of a reinsurance policy to guarantee scholarships for gay students disenrolled from ROTC because of their sexual orientation.

Passing the reinsurance plan was a good step in itself, but as the sole quantifiable change resulting from a year of work and lobbying, it is a depressing milestone. Indeed, it creates the impression that MIT is merely dragging its feet on the issue as it has already vacillated on for far too many years.

Although this inaction represents a big disappointment, it comes as little surprise to anyone familiar with the ROTC Task Force's proposal last year for a "modified" ROTC. The Tech threw its support to the original "model" ROTC plan last year because we believed that it represented an honest and innovative plan. Its spirit seemed strongly committed to progress. The diluted "modified" plan that eventually passed the faculty vote was weaker in tone and language. The modified plan relied heavily on the promise of national advocacy and dialogue for changing ROTC. The only way to make good on such a promise is for MIT's leadership to take a strong and vocal role in altering the perception of ROTC. We have not seen such leadership.

If President Charles M. Vest and others truly are committed to national policy change on ROTC, why aren't they speaking publicly and loudly in favor of it? Vest gives dozens of speeches each year, and if he wanted to publicly push MIT's views on ROTC, he could. But he has not. The implementation team's report points out some efforts the team has made consulting with other universities about ROTC and looking at current court cases at the federal level. But these steps have had a marginal effect at best. MIT should be lobbying the Department of Defense and others forcefully and publicly, not promising to think of filing amicus briefs and only just now trying to make MIT a more gay-friendly place. The implementation team's notion of progress seems rather reminiscent of the feeble efforts of the ROTC working group, which from 1990 to 1995 served as a way to stall before the the ROTC task force was created to make some headway on the ROTC issue.

MIT needs to come clean on what it actually plans to do about ROTC to allow some sort of honest debate to take place. If MIT wants to wait for the federal policy to avoid putting defense research funding at risk, it should make this desire clear (under federal policy, the DoD and other government agencies can stop funding to schools that cut their ROTC programs). If MIT wants to take a stand and publicly detach itself from ROTC, again, it should say so and explain why. MIT has done neither, failing to make any progress since the faculty voted in 1990 to reevaluate ROTC. The continuing stalling and empty rhetoric about change only engenders suspicions about MIT's motivations and stifles valid questions about whether our stated goal agrees with our real goal.

When the faculty approved the modified ROTC plan last spring, it also required that the ROTC issue be brought back to be dealt with in two years' time again if insufficient progress is made toward change. If the implementation team's progress continues at its present pace, the faculty must next year come to terms with the fact that MIT cannot or will not do anything to change ROTC. The faculty should not accept a wait-and-see attitude on the conflict between MIT's principles and the military's anti-gay policies. If there is no progress, the faculty should vote to end ROTC at MIT.