At the tail end of last semester, the Faculty Council voted to suggest the reimbursement of MIT for costs incurred by Harvard students participating in the Reserve Officers' Training program there. If this is approved by the Faculty as a whole tomorrow, Harvard will be one step closer to reversing its 1971 decision to end all official links with the ROTC program. More than $60,000 a year of Harvard's budget will be devoted to subsidizing a military program.
This money will support the discriminatory practices of ROTC. ROTC, like all programs under the Department of Defense, specifically excludes all gay people and people with disabilities, regardless of their ability or conduct The military code declares that homosexuality is incompatible with military service. This has been interpreted to mean that all gay people, even if they are not "guilty" of homosexual affections with another person, are to be excluded or expelled front the armed forces. For the military, the potential of an individual for same sex attraction is enough to warrant a court-martial, usually ending in a dishonorable discharge.
This policy has been vividly illustrated in the case of Drane Mathews, as reported in a recent Newsweek article. A student at the University of Maine at Orono, Matthews previously served in the Army where she earned a Good Conduct Medal, a certificate of achievement, and the Distinguished Soldier's Award. She returned to school and joined ROTC in order to gain the skills necessary for further advancement in the Army. Her career was ended, however, when she asked permission to attend the local gay students group. In justifying its expulsion of Matthews, the military maintained that she could be a lesbian, but she couldn't be a lesbian soldier. According to the military, gay people make discipline and recruitment difficult. This past spring a military spokes-person at Harvard reflected this sentiment with "homosexuals make other people uncomfortable." Another officer has been quoted as saying that "we don't necessarily have to reflect the values of society." In other words equal access, individual liberty, and rationality are not necessarily values the armed forces must accept.
Yet these are values which are central to education. Recent years have seen an increased awareness of the need for a deeper understanding of the subtle institutional barriers to success that exist for minorities in a university setting. Be it a ramp for someone in a wheelchair or the introduction of courses which emphasize the experiences of women and minorities, Harvard has made halting steps towards opening itself up. But by providing more than $60,000 for ROTC. Harvard will be taking part in a program that is closed to a significant part of the community. It will cast into doubt its already limited and shaky commitment to nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
It cannot be argued that a Harvard payment would not carry with it a degree of Harvard responsibility. Though not a contribution to ROTC itself, funds sent to MIT will support the program as a whole. As the overall nature of ROTC is discriminatory, any financial contribution or other official involvement on the part of Harvard will be a sign that Harvard is willing to condone or at least tolerate discrimination. After all Henry Moses, dean of Freshmen wrote to justify the termination of support for minority group-sponsored events during Freshman Week. "Since the FDO was funding the program. I thought it was important that I have some measure of control over what transpired." It would seem add that the University would use lack of control as a reason to cut off funding to student groups, then turn around and fund ROTC, while giving its lack of influence over ROTC as an excuse for not being responsible for its discriminatory practices. It would then not be lending financial support to independent attempts to end racial tensions on campus, while subsidizing discrimination against gay and disabled students I would question such priorities.
There are those, however, who have no such questions. To them, and they include some gay people, the obligation of Harvard to the military supercedes any responsibility it might have to protect its gay students from discrimination. National defense comes before the civil rights of gay people. Gay people themselves should recognize that their interests are best served by advancing those of the country. This argument appeals to the patriotic and self-sacrificing element in us all.
It also happens to be hogwash. Based on the perception that ROTC's exclusion of gay men and lesbians has some actual military value, it ignores the contribution of thousands of "closeted" gay people throughout history. It also ignores the basic violations of human dignity involved. As long as institutions such as ROTC, and by association Harvard, deny complete access to gay people, the nation as a whole cannot be truly free.
If some of the arguments put forth by the military and some of its supporters sound familiar, they should. They are very similar to arguments used to justify the exclusion of Blacks from full participation in American life, and more specifically to excuse the segregation of the armed forces. Military officials claimed that Blacks and whites serving together would reduce our defense capability. Blacks as a group were told to put the interests of the nation before their own claims to full citizenship. Eventually these arguments were rejected; it's about time people, including Harvard administrators and faculty, stop their tacit consent of anti-gay bigotry and discrimination.
The primary argument put forth in defense of Harvard funding for ROTC has been one of finances. Harvard receives more in the form of scholarship money than it would spend in supporting ROTC. This scholarship aid may be cut off if Harvard doesn't cough up the money for MIT. Yet the University does not seem to have pursued other ways of preserving this student and from ROTC. The most obvious solution would be for the military to fund its own programs. At a time when the Federal commitment to higher education is declining, student aid programs are being cut, and funds for the Pentagon are ever-increasing, it is absurd that the Faculty should be asked to divert some of its funds to a non-academic military program such as ROTC. There are many organizations which offer benefits to Harvard students. But some, such as final clubs and ROTC, are not open to all qualified students and thus are not deserving of Faculty support.
Master Bossert of Lowell House, a proponent of ROTC funding, has argued that "recognizing the individual rights of students [Harvard] shouldn't put any artificial roadblocks" in the way of those who want to participate in ROTC. Unfortunately, artificial roadblocks already exist for a sizable proportion of the student body. Until the Faculty is ready to recognize the rights of all students, including gay students, it should dedicate its limited funds to academic and supportive programs open to all, rather than a discriminatory military program at MIT.
If the University can fund ROTC, which discriminates against gay and disabled students, why not a program at Bob Jones University which discriminates against non-whites? Tomorrow's vote by the Faculty will establish how seriously it takes the issue of discrimination in general.