ROTC discussion to continue in open forum

An open forum on a proposal that MIT establish a "model" Reserve Officer Training Corps program will be held from 7-9pm Thursday, April 11, in Rm 34-101, the ROTC Task Force has announced.

Professor Stephen C. Graves, Task Force chair, said the forum will be open to the entire community. Task Force members hope many students will attend, he said.

The Task Force presented its proposal at the March 20 meeting of the faculty. The open forum is a key element in its continuing efforts to respond to questions and concerns voiced at the faculty meeting, Professor Graves said. The faculty is expected to vote on the proposals at the April 17 meeting.

"The Task Force will seek to improve its report and its proposal in the intervening days," he said.

The Task Force recommended that MIT make ROTC programs available to all students, regardless of the Department of Defense policy and a federal law that require discriminatory exclusions of some students on the basis of sexual preference. The proposal, now in the form of a motion before the faculty for action at its April meeting, also calls for the Institute to "reinsure" those students who lose ROTC scholarship funds because of the DOD policy and to mount a national effort to change the policy and the law.


At a lengthy, rancor-free meeting on March 20, the faculty discussed the report in detail after Professor Graves outlined the Task Force suggestions. Several faculty members asked what would happen if the DOD ultimately declines to negotiate with MIT about the proposal for a model program. Professor Graves replied that the ROTC Oversight Committee would report annually to the faculty on progress and that information about negotiations with the DOD would reach the faculty within a year.

Some who opposed the proposal said that MIT, by keeping ROTC, violates its own policy of nondiscrimination. Others objected to a Task Force proposal that MIT faculty be involved in hearings that might be called by the ROTC programs to investigate whether individual declarations of homosexuality are valid. Such participation, objectors said, puts MIT in the business of investigating what one called "private bedroom behavior" to determine if fraud has occurred.

Professor Graves said the intention of the Task Force in proposing such participation was to afford some protection to the student.

Professor David Thorburn of Literature said that despite all of the Task Force's "ameliorative suggestions," the discriminatory policy "remains in place and MIT agrees to go along with it," and this, he said, is a form of dishonesty, "however honorable its intention." A position he saw as morally sounder would be for the Institute to say "these policies are anathema to MIT, they run counter to what MIT stands for, they undermine our fundamental beliefs about human equality, we cannot really accept this. (and) while the military is very important to us. if they haven't changed within five years, MIT is out."


Professor David M. Halperin, also of Literature, who said he was one of those involved in the 1990 movement to "get MIT disengaged from ROTC within five years," expressed his admiration for the way the Task Force conducted its inquiry and produced a compromise "that will have the stamp of MIT ingenuity in finding a way out of a very difficult situation."

However, he said the report, "as it stands, is not truly workable. I think on the whole MIT should try to distance itself further from the US military under present conditions, rather than get itself in an embrace with it."

But he said that he was "not arguing for any effort to hold MIT to the letter of the 1990 faculty resolution which I supported. I have two reasons for that: First of all, circumstances have changed. In 1990 the faculty action and Institute action was designed to put pressure on the administration and to contribute to an ongoing national debate in the military. We had that debate in 1993 and those of us who take the side I take, including President Clinton, lost. As a result, we have a 1993 congressional statute which is obviously the sort of thing that is not amenable to change through mere efforts of lobbying by educational institutions or others.

"That's one reason why I wouldn't necessarily insist that MIT terminate its relationship with ROTC instantly. It would not do much good.

"Secondly, Congress is in a vengeful mood. We have the February legislation [that directs the Secretary of Defense to take note of any actions which he deems as preventing the establishment or maintenance of an ROTC program and gives him discretion about barring DOD grants and contracts] and I think it's understandable that members of the MIT Corporation would want to protect MIT from potential disastrous consequences if the Secretary of Defense took action against us."

It is essential, he said, "that members of the MIT community be put in possession of the relevant portions of that statute which outline what sort of room we have for negotiation with the Department of Defense. We can't very well ask the DOD to do things that are against the law of the land as enacted by Congress and I don't think it was the intent of anybody on the committee to suggest that we do so.

"But the committee has been throwing around terms like homosexual conduct, statements of homosexuality. In fact, the congressional statute targets particularly, and I quote from the text, persons who demonstrate a `propensity or intent' to engage in homosexual acts. And there are a number of other statements in the statute that need to be taken into the account when we consider what sorts of steps we can legitimately take to address this situation. I think we need to be in possession of this information."

Professor Halperin also said he found the idea of a model ROTC program "repugnant" under current conditions. "Despite my great eagerness to defend students who might be victimized by this policy, I could not possibly serve on a committee [as the Task Force recommends] that was engaged in such an inquisition. I can't imagine that many of you would like to do it either."

He also said the report commits MIT to remain involved with ROTC "even if the DOD rebuffs all of MIT's suggestions for a model program, and I think such a decision would make a mockery of MIT's nondiscrimination clause."

He noted that this is a matter "about which honorable people can disagree. I think MIT took a very honorable stand in 1990 just as the MIT faculty took honorable stands when it opposed the MIT Corporation's continued investments in South Africa. The MIT Corporation ignored faculty resolutions on that point. It could well ignore another faculty resolution on this. But if MIT chooses, as I hope it will not, to back down, to retreat from the very honorable position that I think John Deutch and the MIT faculty took in 1990, I hope it will do so without the blessing of this faculty."

Professor Thomas W. Eagar, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said he could not find an "instance in history where intolerance breeds tolerance. What we're trying to do here is to help not only MIT and the military, but the whole nation to come to some sort of tolerance of people's individual preferences. And I don't think that MIT taking a position that is intolerant in any way is going to help foster that type of tolerance that is our ultimate goal. I don't like extremist positions in any sense and I applaud the committee for coming up with what I consider is a compromise solution to a very complex problem. I frankly don't mind compromise. I don't think that every issue is black and white. So I would like to endorse your committee's position as something that continues the dialogue and continues to keep MIT in the process to try to develop more tolerance not only at MIT and within the military at MIT, but within the whole nation. And I think that's a service to the nation."

He quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise." In conclusion, Professor Eagar said, "We may feel we are in some sort of hopeless cause here, but we should be determined to make it otherwise and walking away from it will not make it otherwise."

Professor Leigh H. Royden of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences endorsed the Task Force report as perhaps "the best way to take a stand. We can make all educational components of ROTC on campus nondiscriminatory. One can argue that having gays within ROTC will change the character of ROTC for the better because of interaction with peers who will go on to be officers in the military."


Professor Ralph N. Wedgwood of Linguistics and Philosophy, a newcomer to MIT, said he was "proud to be a member of the faculty which has in the past taken such principled and clear stands against discrimination. As a gay man myself I believe I know how the Institute's nondiscrimination policy is prized for fostering a sense of community among those who may fear discrimination."

He commended the Task Force for its work and said he applauds many aspects of the report, citing the finding that current DOD policies do not constitute "adequate progress" and that they remain in clear conflict with MIT policies.

But he said it was with regret that he concluded that "the core of the ROTC proposal, the model program" was "deeply flawed and entirely misconceived" and "should not under any circumstances be adopted by this faculty." The idea sounds good, he said, "but ultimately it's a sham."

He said it seems "implausible that there will be lots of openly gay students thronging to take time-consuming ROTC subjects for which they cannot get MIT credit and at the end of which they will get nothing but a little letter from the ROTC commander stating that they have taken those subjects."

A more serious objection, he said, is that "the most serious forms of discrimination would continue unabated" and that, under the proposal, members of the MIT administration "would have to collaborate more closely than before with the ROTC commanders." The "inevitable consequence" would be that MIT "will be more closely involved in the implementation of discrimination." He saw the possibility of MIT being sued if its faculty or administrators took part in such hearings.

He said the faculty should seek a legal opinion before voting on the proposal.

The idea that MIT could mitigate abuse by the DOD by being present at hearings "is indefensible," Professor Wedgewood said. "There are certain evils that we cannot prevent and that we can only mitigate in trivial ways. In those cases the correct response is to refuse to take part. We must stand apart from those evils if we cannot prevent them from being perpetrated."


Professor Michael J. Piore of Economics spoke in favor of the report, "not in terms of every punctuation mark, because I think there are some problems that have been raised in the [faculty meeting] debate that need to be thought about and addressed in the coming months, [but] the structure which the report outlines is basically a structure consistent with the history of MIT and the reality of gay life at MIT, at least as I've experienced it."

Professor Piore said he has been at MIT since 1966 and the issue regarding ROTC "has forced me to think back on those years. about the experience of being gay at MIT and about the role of ROTC at MIT.

"To be blunt about it, despite all the antidiscrimination policies at MIT and all the sentiments that are expressed and all the formal policies, the experience of being gay at MIT is a constant humiliation.

"And so I don't see a lot of compromises which are being made in the reality of life at MIT by the proposals which are being made in this report, nor do I see this basically as a moral issue."

What is at stake, he said, "is the nature of educational life at MIT and the quality of life at MIT for all of the people in this community, and the process of working out the problems and the difficulties of living together and giving all the citizens of this community an opportunity to participate in it" as full members.

In reviewing this issue, he said, what kept coming back to him was the debate about ROTC at MIT in the early 1970s. "In that period, when every other campus in the country was kicking ROTC off campus or making some major change in the relationship with ROTC, and at the same time that MIT actually severed its relationship with the Draper Labs, MIT voted, this faculty voted, to keep ROTC at MIT.

"And the reason was because, unlike every other faculty in the country, MIT had not distanced itself from ROTC, it had not pretended that the military was a dirty little secret off to the side of MIT. It had faced up to the fact that the military and ROTC are central to life at MIT and it had taken on, long before the issue arose, the task of taking a program which was basically non-intellectual and outside the educational mission of MIT and bringing it in gradually over time so that it was a part of the standards of MIT and it met its educational criteria and it was consistent with its educational mission. And it had done that through negotiations with the ROTC over its program and through a careful review of the officers who were sent to teach at MIT by the military.

"Now for me that particular incident is another, not the first, not the last, but another illustration of the humiliation of being gay at MIT. Because being gay at MIT is an experience of being left outside of exactly that community which MIT, in the case of the military, went to such a lot of trouble to incorporate within MIT. And it is a particular humiliation in a professional community where there is no barrier between personal and professional life, where the very nature of professional life means that your self-definition is bound up with your professional career [and] to be asked by your colleagues in a hundred different kinds of subtle ways not to reveal your sexual preference, not to reveal your private life, not to talk about your partners, not to talk about what you did in the weekend.

"However nondiscriminatory the Institute is in a formal sense, in the informal guts of life as a professional in this institution, being gay means that you have to make precisely the split between your private life and your public life that it is almost the definition of a professional not to make. And it is a real humiliation that this institution should go to such trouble to incorporate the military within it and at the same time leave gay men and lesbians standing on the outside.

"So it seems to me it is particularly appropriate, it is consistent with the way MIT has treated its problems with ROTC in the past, and it is consistent with what I see as the major internal problem that is involved in MIT's relationship with the gay and lesbian members of this community, that it should create this kind of structure and make this kind of attempt to deal with the problems of homosexuality and ROTC.

"I don't think this is a great proposal in any kind of universal sense of the term, and if you persuade me that it would serve some larger political purpose on the national scene to kick ROTC off campus or to distance ourselves from ROTC, I would be prepared to support the alternative. But given the difficulty of figuring that out, and given what are the internal realities of MIT at this moment, both in terms of the way MIT relates to ROTC in particular, but to the military more broadly, and the internal realities of what it means to be a gay man or lesbian in this community, it seems to me that this is a constructive structure with which to work, and I think it's a good idea and I think that we ought to try it out."


Professor Alvin Drake of EECS, who chaired the ROTC committee in 1990, spoke in favor of the recommendation. No one, he said, could have predicted in 1990 how little progress would have been made on what he called an "ugly, difficult issue."

Anything that keeps the issue in the public eye "is going to be progressive," he said. The merits of sustaining the ROTC program as the Task Force has proposed exceed the merits of abandoning the program, he said.

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