MIT Students Criticize ROTC
1500 Sign Petition Calling on ROTC to Admit Gay Cadets
About 1500 MIT students and faculty have signed a petition calling on their school to "sever all ties" with the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) by 1994 if it continues to deny scholarships to gay students.
Professor of Literature David M. Halperin, who helped organize Defeat Discrimination at MIT (DDaMIT), said his group's drive was launched in response to "a growing view that this ban on gay men and women in the military is silly and archaic."
Although Harvard has not had ROTC on-campus since 1969, about 80 University students are enrolled in programs at MIT.
"We don't want to be labeled anti-ROTC," said DDaMIT member Joe B. Melvin. "We're anti-discrimination....Our goal is not to get ROTC off campus."
Halperin said yesterday that 30 DDaMIT members had gathered the 1500 signatures in 10 days, and would try to get 500 more.
A spokesperson for Air Force ROTC at MIT said yesterday that the petition was misguided.
Maj. Brian H. Mazurski said that "people are really barking up the wrong tree" by putting pressure on ROTC. Instead, activists should go to Congress and have them "change the laws governing who can come into the service," he said.
Mazurski also said that the ban on gays was justified. "There are going to be situations at remote sites where people are going to be uncomfortable" working with soldiers of "strange sexual--well, other than the heterosexual persuasion, let's call it that," he said.
But another ROTC official at MIT said he welcomed the petition drive.
"In the time frame of the next several years, we'll change [ROTC's] policy," said Army Maj. Ralph J. Gabriel. "In some things the military leads society, and in other things it trails society."
DDaMIT chose the 1994 deadline to avoid depriving any current or entering MIT students of ROTC funding, Halperin said.
Message to the Pentagon
Melvin said a ROTC ban by MIT would have national repercussions. "If this can happen at MIT, it will send such a powerful message to the Pentagon that they're going to have to seriously consider their policies," he said.
The drive was prompted by recent events at the Universities of Wisconsin, Melvin said. At Wisconsin, the faculty voted to sever ties with ROTC if the military did not change its exclusionary policies, but the school's trustees reversed the decision.
Harvard's Faculty Council is currently debating whether the University should sever all remaining ties with ROTC. Specifically, the Faculty's steering committee is considering whether ROTC should be able to continue holding occasional meetings in Harvard rooms, recruit at career forums and hold special Commencement Exercises.
The focus on ROTC at MIT and Harvard comes at a time when the military has begun to take unprecedented steps against gay cadets.
Last week, a ROTC commission recommended that the Army ask cadet James M. Holobaugh to pay back $2500 in ROTC scholarship money after he told officials that he was gay.
And MIT student Robert L. Bettiker wrote last week in The Thistle, a liberal student paper at MIT, that he had been denied a commission and asked to pay back the value of his $38,000 scholarship by Navy ROTC because he was openly gay.
An administrative policy of the U.S. military states that being gay is incompatible with military service. An executive order from the President or an act of Congress could overturn the policy, San Francisco author Allan R. Berube said yesterday.
"The military's argument that gays are incompatible with military service is wrong. There is no evidence to back it up, and overwhelming evidence to contradict it," said Berube, who has recently published a book on gay soldiers in World War II.