Stick to Your Guns

THE FACULTY'S ROTC DECISION:

"The requirement of morale...demand[s] that nothing be done which may adversely affect the situation. ...[T]he enlistment of Negroes, other than for mess attendants, leads to disruptive and undermining conditions." From the U.S. Navy policy on racial segregation, 1941

"Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale..."   From the U.S. military policy on homosexuality, 1991

IT'S ALMOST SURPRISING that such idiotic arguments used to uphold discrimination could persist for 50 years. But in fact they have come to justify even more than segregation--now the military wants complete exclusion. And while the Pentagon pointedly denied its racism during the 1940s, now it openly states its anti-gay sentiment.

In both cases, policy is backed only by irrationality and fear. Black soldiers were untrustworthy or incompetent. White troops wouldn't get along with them. On July 26, 1948, President Truman exposed the faulty logic and ended the military's segregation of Black troops.

But even today misguided attitudes persist. Gays are different. They are effeminate. They cannot be good fighters. They will constantly make sexual advances toward fellow soldiers.

Never mind that gays have an exemplary record of military service. Never mind that the military has relaxed such curbs during wartime. Never mind that in most of the cases of disruptions attributed to gays, it was not gays but anti-gay attitudes that caused the disciplinary problems.

Still, gays, lesbians and bisexuals are banned from the armed forces. In the past, they have been denied benefits, thrown in military jails and automatically discharged--solely on the basis of sexual orientation.

Citing such concerns, the Faculty Council issued an ultimatum to the Pentagon in 1989, warning that if this policy were not overturned by the spring of 1992, Harvard would no longer accept scholarship money for incoming students from the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Those ROTC students already enrolled in the University would continue to receive financial assistance until their graduations.

As the deadline approaches, Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles and President Neil L. Rudenstine have asked the Faculty to mull over the decision. We think they should stick to their guns.

AT ISSUE FOR MANY in the ROTC debate is not whether the military should end its policy of exclusion--many ROTC defenders and campus conservatives agree that it should.

The real debate has centered around financial concerns. In a report released last week, the Undergraduate Council "Subcommittee for the Defense of ROTC" found that 89 percent of current ROTC students would not have come to Harvard if the University did not offer the program.

Therefore, as the report put it, "Harvard would be doing a larger disservice to itself, its students, and the community at large by severing ties with ROTC than it is currently doing by maintaining those ties."

But this doesn't work. By the report's own figures, more than eight in 10 of this 89 percent cited financial reasons as their primary or secondary consideration. Harvard offers need-based aid to every student who qualifies. Trying to transform a debate about how to fight discrimination into a gays-versus-poor conflict is a disingenuous fudge. If students' major concern is money, Harvard provides it without ROTC.

Some say Harvard's need-based aid excludes too many middle class families who cannot afford Harvard. In that case, the question should be how can we make Harvard affordable for all qualified students, not just those who happen to be affiliated with ROTC. However beneficial the scholarships are for those who qualify, are we willing, in good conscience, to accept scholarship money that is denied to certain Harvard students out of pure bigotry?

THOSE WHO ARGUE for ROTC also say that without ROTC students, Harvard would lose a niche of diversity filled by those who yearn to combine being a student "with the complementary physical and mental challenges of the military," as the council subcommittee report says.

It's true that axing ROTC funds to the University would force prospective students to make a choice between ROTC and Harvard. But only one-third (11 students) of those surveyed cited "want[ing] to be in the military" as their primary or secondary reason for not coming to a ROTC-less Harvard. Most were worried about money. We think Harvard can do without the tiny number of students who would choose ROTC over Harvard, even given need-based aid from the University.

This does not mean that Harvard must give up all Pentagon research funds, which total about $8.2 million per year. Grants for research do not discriminate against lesbians, gays and bisexuals. Grants for ROTC do. Anyone can participate in Department of Defense research. Only heterosexuals can participate in ROTC.

Finally, some say Harvard's rejection of ROTC scholarship money would be mostly symbolic, lacking any real power to change the military's policy. Given that many colleges and universities often follow Harvard's lead, however, we think the move could snowball.

A CAMPUS-WIDE FRACAS has erupted over no other case of such clear-cut discrimination. No amount of caterwauling about diversity or the faults of need-based funding would force the University to accept money from the Nazi Party or from the KKK. Obviously ROTC is not devoted to the oppression of homosexuals, but the military's discrimination is no less clearly stated.

The Department of Defense may simply decide to give ROTC funds directly to students, ending the debate over whether Harvard should reject the money. The University can do nothing about the sources of a student's tuition. But until then, the choice is clear: ROTC funding should go.