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Provost reports on ROTC developments

MIT will continue to communicate with other universities and maintain contacts with lobbying and advocacy groups as it monitors the implementation of the new Department of Defense (DOD) policy on homosexuals in the military, Provost Mark S. Wrighton told the faculty at its February 16 meeting. The DOD policy affects ROTC units.

Although the issue of changing the DOD's policy is currently "dormant" in both Congress and in the DOD itself, the provost said President Clinton's "don't ask-don't tell-don't pursue" policy, while not yet an order, is essentially the practice being followed now in MIT's ROTC programs. However, the provost said it appears that those in authority would have wide powers to interpret the President's order when it is issued, and the Institute has been advised to be "mindful about how this policy is being implemented."

Professor Wrighton made his report in connection with a 1990 faculty resolution aimed at reversing the DOD policy. The resolution followed the dismissal from MIT's Navy ROTC unit of a cadet who had informed his commander that he was a homosexual. The Navy also sought the return of nearly $40,000 in scholarship money. That effort was later abandoned. Those events occurred several months after the MIT administration had begun an appraisal of its relationship with ROTC and the incompatibility of the DOD policy with the Institute's policy.

The provost pointed out that the 1990 resolution asks that in 1995 MIT move toward forming a committee to review what progress has been made in changing DOD policy and to make recommendations.

"So we have about a year and a half to go," Professor Wrighton said.

"I think that you will all appreciate that in the latter part of 1992 we felt that we would be in a position to suspend our activities as a working group and that we would have a President that would end the discriminatory policies of the Defense Department. This would allow us to continue on with an active and vital ROTC program here on campus.

"Events did not quite materialize in the way we had hoped and we now have a policy that has been codified as President Clinton's don't ask-don't tell-don't pursue policy. This policy has not been fully implemented as we understand it, since there have been changes in the office of the Secretary of Defense."

The provost recalled his comment of last year that the new DOD policy is "a step in the right direction" in that it placed emphasis on behavior and not on sexual orientation.

Professor Wrighton also reviewed steps that MIT's ROTC Working Group has taken. In addition to several meetings with elected officials urging reversal, the provost mentioned the following:

  • In April 1992, MIT established the Area Institutions Group which includes the University of Massachusetts, Wellesley, Tufts and Northeastern. Together, the schools worked to develop local strategies and bring attention to the issue.
  • In May 1992, President Charles M. Vest endorsed Rep. Patricia Schroeder's Military Freedom Act of 1992 that would prohibit discrimination in the armed forces on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • In December 1992, Dr. Vest was among the 100 individuals and organizations which took part in an ACLU-sponsored full-page New York Times ad urging reversal of the ban.

Professor Wrighton concluded his report by saying that MIT will continue to be in touch with other universities and educational organizations as well as the ACLU "in an effort to monitor the implementation of the new regulations and to identify opportunities to work together."

A version of this article appeared in the March 9, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 25).

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