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ROTC Discrimination Statement to Change

By Keith J. Winstein

NEWS AND FEATURES DIRECTOR

MIT will revise its nondiscrimination statement to remove a reference to efforts to open parts of the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps programs to homosexual students, Laura Avakian, the vice president of human resources, said Monday.

The change follows a question from The Tech about the statement’s continued accuracy.

The official statement, printed in the MIT Bulletin and most weeks in Tech Talk, has included a footnote that “MIT is working to develop a modified on-campus ROTC program open to all MIT students” since 1996, when the faculty ratified a proposal to allow openly gay students to participate in some on-campus ROTC activities.

But negotiations with the Department of Defense to realize the faculty proposal foundered shortly thereafter, said Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75, the chairman of the ROTC Implementation Committee and a former Army sergeant.

Clay said he was unaware MIT continued to publicize its efforts to implement the faculty’s modified ROTC proposal. “I don’t think that’s been a live commitment for some time,” he said. “If that’s what we’re still saying,” he said, “we should stop saying it.”

Informed of Clay’s comments, Avakian said the nondiscrimination statement was “no longer accurate” and that MIT’s Academic Council, a group of deans and vice presidents, would change it probably later this summer.

“It does need to be amended,” Avakian said. “We probably will do so by going back to the footnote that was there before this more hopeful statement was written and one that will simply refer to ROTC as an exception,” she said.

Avakian described the failure to revise the statement when MIT effectively stopped work on the modified program in 1997 or 1998 as an oversight. “We haven’t meant to let it lag,” she said. “It just hasn’t been, frankly, right in front of our faces.”

“When the statement was footnoted, it was done so with the belief that the pending conversation with Congress was going to have a different input, and MIT would have a chance to perhaps influence how the federal legislation goes relative to nondiscrimination,” Avakian said. “Not only has that not happened, but with the current administration, it has been perceived by our Washington office that that is highly unlikely,” she said.

“It’s not like we’ve abandoned it or we’re against it,” Clay said. “We just don’t see any way to advance it.”

“There was a period back in 1996 when we were trying and we did explore some possibilities” with the Defense Department, he said, “but that stalled then and has not been active since.”

ROTC opened some classes to all

While not reaching agreement on the faculty’s 1996 proposal, the ROTC programs have opened up classes in their leadership curriculums as regular class offerings available to all students, said Army Lt. Col. Brian L. Baker, who runs the Army ROTC program.

“In the spirit of finding ways that the military can contribute leadership development to undergraduates, we’ve come a long way, and I’m quite proud of the success we’ve made in recent times,” he said.

“We now teach a course called 15.305 [Leadership and Management],” Baker said. “Although many of those students participate in the ROTC, it’s open to the entire student body,” he said. “This is one excellent opportunity for anyone on the student body to participate.”

Baker also cited an upcoming Independent Activities Period offering taught by ROTC, known as Leadership (15.952).

The ROTC programs themselves do bar openly gay students, Baker said. “A law says -- this is not Army policy nor is it an ROTC policy -- ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ I’m not interested in one’s sexual preference and I’m not going to ask about it,” he said.

“But if offered by the individual, they may become ineligible to earn a commission” as an officer in the military, he said. “If there were a paraplegic on campus, for instance, who could not earn a commission because of medical reasons, they’re still able to take a class on leadership. So the services we provide the university are available to everyone,” he said.

Gays in ROTC long-term issue

The Institute’s pledge not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation was added to the nondiscrimination statement in 1981. No mention of ROTC’s prohibition on openly gay students was made until 1990, when the faculty voted to ask President Vest to appoint an ROTC task force “with the expectation that inadequate progress toward eliminating the DOD policy on sexual orientation will result in ... making ROTC unavailable to students beginning with the class entering in 1998.”

The vote coincided with a change in the statement, adding a footnote that “The ROTC programs located on the MIT campus do not fulfill all of the elements in the above statement. This discrepancy is currently under review by MIT.”

The task force, headed by Professor Stephen C. Graves, recommended a compromise instead -- a modified ROTC program in which “all MIT students will be eligible to enroll, without qualification or reservation, in any of the three ROTC units conducted at MIT provided they meet the required physical fitness standards of the relevant ROTC units.”

“The Task Force expects that within two years [by 1998] tangible progress will be made in achieving the modified ROTC program,” the recommendations said. “If movement toward an inclusive and nondiscriminatory ROTC program cannot be discerned at that time, then the Faculty should consider possible further action.”

The recommendations were ratified by the faculty in 1996. Work on the modified ROTC program stalled shortly after the committee began its work, said Clay, who became the new head of the ROTC Implementation Committee, pointing to the decreasing optimism in the committee’s annual reports to the faculty. That committee became dormant this year “because there is no current agenda or active projects,” Clay wrote in his annual report.

“I think it’s a disappointment for sure” that the proposal was not realized, Graves said. “One would have hoped for more progress, but I think there are a lot of things that are sort of beyond the control of what we can do on campus.”

“The important question is whether the Institute is updating its position on ROTC, or just deleting the outdated sentence,” wrote Brian A. Rubineau ’93, a member of the group Defeat Discrimination at MIT whose work led in part to the faculty’s 1990 vote.

“MIT needs to remain active in resolving this incongruence,” he wrote. “If MIT allows this gross contradiction between principle and practice to go neglected, or abandons its responsibility to rectify the problem, then MIT is showing that it is, in fact, NOT ‘in full support of non-discrimination,’” as former Provost John M. Deutch ’61 described MIT in 1990.

Reinsurance policy adopted

Rubineau saluted MIT on adopting another part of the 1996 Task Force recommendations, a plan to “reinsure” students who lose their ROTC scholarships because of their sexual orientation.

MIT has adopted the policy, Clay said, although no students have used it or been kicked out of MIT ROTC on account of sexual orientation since 1990. At least one student had previously lost an ROTC scholarship because of his sexual orientation.

It is not clear how many students are aware of the policy. The 1996 faculty recommendations say, “The MIT Bulletin will publicize this new policy of reinsurance for DOD scholarships. Students applying to MIT should know that their DOD scholarships will be reinsured if they are subject to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue’ policy. “

But the policy was not published in the MIT Bulletin -- it is not clear why -- and is not advertised to students interested in the Army ROTC program. “That is not something that I make clear to students interested in ROTC, although I am aware of it,” Baker said.

Representatives of the Navy and Air Force ROTC programs, and the Department of Defense, did not return a request for comment.