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Federal Relations Discussed (at Faculty Meeting)

Channels remain open in MIT's continuing effort to reverse the Department of Defense's exclusionary policy based on sexual orientation, but little is likely to happen until after the November election, Provost Mark S. Wrighton said last week at a faculty meeting devoted largely to MIT-federal government issues.

President Charles M. Vest, touching on another matter, said court action will resume in June in the Justice Department's year-old antitrust action on financial aid practices.

Faculty members also heard a report from Dr. John Crowley on the activities of the MIT Washington Office, which he heads. The office opened last August.

In the financial aid case, Dr. Vest said that in the last few weeks depositions have been taken from expert witnesses for both sides in the dispute over how MIT measures the financial need of its applicants. A focus of the federal action was the Overlap Group consisting of Ivy League schools and MIT and the agreements MIT had with other schools to base financial aid only on need.

MIT continues to believe that it took the right course of action in refusing to sign the consent decree that the eight Ivy League institutions agreed to, Dr. Vest said. He said he has detected slowly gathering forces of support for MIT's position as "other charitable organizations begin to recognize that this case has some significance for the way in which they operate as well. . . We have had very willing people come forward to serve as expert witnesses in our behalf. I would not dare predict what the outcome of this action would be, but we are proceeding cautiously and carefully with the full realization that significant funds will have to be expended to defend ourselves and we are proceeding carefully bearing in mind the implications of our actions for other institutions."

Turning to the DOD policy on sexual orientation, which affects ROTC programs and which is in direct conflict with MIT's nondiscrimination policy and with the laws of Massachusetts, President Vest said reversing it is "one of the most Herculean tasks that we are faced with as an administration, as an institution. . ."

An ROTC Working Group on the Department of Defense Sexual Orientation Policy was formed last October. Its chairman is Professor Wrighton. Members are Professor J. Kim Vandiver, chair of the faculty; Professor Kenneth R. Manning, chair of the faculty committee on ROTC; Stephen D. Immerman, director of special projects in the office of the senior vice president; and Sarah J. Eusden, assistant for government and community relations.

In his report, Professor Wrighton said the conflict facing universities is frequently brought up in discussions with Department of Defense officials. "They are concerned that quality institutions like ours and Harvard are faced with this conflict, but that doesn't mean they have indicated that they are willing to review or change the policy at this point," Professor Wrighton said.

At a Pentagon meeting with Assistant Secretary of Defense Christopher Jehn January 17, attended by Associate Provost Samuel Jay Keyser and Ms. Eusden, Secretary Jehn indicated what Professor Wrighton called "some receptiveness to engaging the universities in a dialogue and indicated that he might be willing to establish a joint committee." University leaders have asked that such a group be formed and await a response, the provost said.

A significant development, the provost reported, was the announcement last November by the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC) that it will help sponsor a lawsuit challenging the DOD policy with respect to ROTC. MIT, a member of NASULGC, is working with the group on this effort.

President Vest said it is his belief that "the emergence of NASULGC" is important because the group has significant political clout.

When Provost Wrighton called for questions, Professor Alvin W. Drake of EECS, former chair of the faculty committee on ROTC, who supports the Working Group, said he hoped there would be time for initiatives such as conferences or meetings in which MIT could play a leadership role, in addition to contacts with the government through educational groups.

Also commenting was Professor David M. Halperin of literature, who has been in the forefront of efforts here to reverse the DOD policy and to focus MIT's attention on the issue. Professor Halperin, who said he wanted MIT to continue to be "the conscience of the nation's universities on this issue," asked the Working Group to become involved not only with educational organizations but with groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which he said have long records of activity in this area.

Professor Wrighton, in reply, said he believed MIT "has struck up a good and healthy dialogue" and that DOD officials are "more receptive in engaging in serious discussion about what to do about it as opposed to ignoring it, but we need to follow the activities of the organizations involved because there's enormous leverage associated with having a number of institutions together..."

President Vest also spoke briefly about the continuing investigation into the indirect cost of research at universities. He said MIT would appeal if federal auditors sought to revoke retroactively memoranda of understanding the university has negotiated with the government on various aspects of indirect costs.

In introducing Dr. Crowley, President Vest said that the main reason for the Washington office is to make MIT as available as possible to the federal government in a role of education and service.

Dr. Crowley reported that MIT is "deeply, even uniquely, respected" in Washington offices. On campus, he said, in his talks with faculty, he has heard "a consistent readiness to build upon the considerable assistance MIT already gives to national policy makers."

Dr. Crowley listed nine areas of focus for the Washington Office, including the new budget process, the annual authorization and appropriations bills for research agencies and international trade, technology policy and industrial policy.

He said that MIT and Harvard will jointly host the staffs of the Massachusetts congressional delegations for tours and discussions this week.

A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 21).

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