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COLUMN

Supporting Our Academic Allies

Andrew C. Thomas

When it was revealed earlier this summer that expected developments in the improvement of MIT’s ROTC program had stalled, improvements that would properly compromise between the Institute’s discrimination policies against gays and the Armed Forces “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, The Tech recommended that MIT not only work to push this compromise but to work with other institutions to promote positive change at the government level. Recent confrontations between law schools and military recruiters have given MIT a chance to weigh in once again to this debate, in a lawsuit filed by the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), a group of law schools and professors. FAIR has sued the Department of Defense following a confrontation between the DOD and those law schools over the prohibition of military recruiting due to the military’s discrimination against openly gay soldiers. MIT must throw its official weight behind FAIR in order to help effect change.

There was at one point a faculty promise to reform the ROTC program by introducing a system that would allow openly gay cadets to complete the collegiate program without receiving a commission at graduation. In theory this is possible now; ROTC classes are apparently open to all members of the community whether or not they serve as a cadet. However, this does not extend to other parts of the program under military jurisdiction.

One very valid reason MIT has had against a change of policy is that the DOD has threatened to cut off all funding for even the slightest act of defiance, a move sanctioned by the 1995 Solomon Amendment and under current threat of broad use by Mr. Rumsfeld. It was this threat that caused the law schools to back down in the first place. How unfortunate -- and legally questionable -- it is that the DOD is making the law schools violate the constitution in order to avoid having the military break an existing law. One point of attack, recently discussed in The New York Times, is that the DOD’s threats constitute a violation of the law schools’ freedom of association. But the basic stalemate remains that these laws are fundamentally incompatible.

And it is MIT that can help break the stalemate. By showing its support to FAIR in some way -- from as little as an official letter to as much as an amicus curiae brief. MIT can help shore up the plaintiff’s case. It would be foolish to suggest that MIT can change “don’t ask, don’t tell” singlehandedly -- after all, such a change could only come with time and a longer legal battle -- but given MIT’s historically important relationship with the military, and its defense of the ROTC program during the Vietnam War, it is not an understatement to say that MIT carries some weight.

It would seem that since the ROTC program is intact in its current form at MIT, and military recruitment is not under heavy debate, there would be little risk of losing funding under Solomon. With everything to gain and little to lose, it makes little sense to leave the law schools on their own when this school could help tip the scales in their favor.