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Twenty-four U.S. Representatives issued a letter yesterday condemning the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) for dismissing a student because of his sexual orientation and demanding repayment of $2500 in scholarship money.
Harvard's Faculty Council, the steering committee of the full Faculty, is currently reviewing the University's relationship with ROTC, and some members interviewed yesterday said that the current controversy could be a factor in their decision.
"We didn't have a chance to discuss it at the last meeting," said Faculty Council member Mark Birkinshaw, associate professor of astronomy. "It is still very much a lively topic--it's also very sensitive. Recent events will no doubt play a part in the dicussion."
Drafted by Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass), who is openly gay, the letter calls the Army's decision demanding that the Washington University student, James M. Holobaugh, repay the scholarship money "fundamentally unfair; it would also reflect an appalling mean-spiritedness which has no place in ROTC."
"I think it's very unfair. He's a victim of an irrational policy," said Rep. Barney Frank '61-62 (D-Mass.) in an interview with The Crimson yesterday. "He complied with all the requirements. He did nothing wrong."
"Holobaugh invested a lot of time and energy in the program. He has a legitimate claim to say `pay me back for all the time and energy I put into it,'" said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) in an interview.
Since the anti-Vietnam War student unrest of the late 1960s, Harvard hashad no on-campus ROTC program, but many studentscross-register at MIT.
Last spring, the Undergraduate Council voted toask the Faculty to bring ROTC back to Harvard, butafter a week of student protest and national mediacoverage, the student government reversed itsdecision.
At the request of student activists, theFaculty Council is currently discussing whetherthe military's practice of excluding gays fromservice is grounds for severing all remainingHarvard ties with ROTC Specifically, the body isreviewing whether the University should allowoccasional ROTC drills on campus, recruiting atcareer forums and special Commencement exercises.
The Holobaugh case may influence the FacultyCouncil's deliberations although membersinterviewed yesterday said it was unclear whattheir final decision, expected some time thisspring, would be.
While refusing a ROTC cadet commission becauseof sexual orientation is not uncommon, the recentcase is the first time that a student has beenordered by the Army to repay scholarship money,according to Kathleen T. Dyer, an aide to Studds.
An Exemplary Cadet
Holobaugh, formerly a University of Missouristudent, won a four-year ROTC scholarship toattend Washington University in St. Louis in hisjunior year. Considered an exemplary cadet, he wasfeatured in a ROTC recruiting advertisement thatran in newspaper advertisements.
In 1989, during his senior year at Washington,Holobaugh said he discovered that he was gay.
Upon the recommendation of a ROTC captain,Holobaugh told the military that he was gayseveral months before being awarded his commissionlast May, he said. He was at first "dis-enrolled"and denied his commission, he said.
"I knew that when I decided to take thecaptain's advice [and tell military officials hewas gay]--I knew that there was a possibility thatthey would ask me to pay it back," said Holobaughin an interview yesterday. "But I didn't see themdoing that. I can't help that I am gay. It'sadding insult to injury."
A ROTC commission then reviewed his case andrecommended this week that the Army reclaim thescholarship money.
The final decision on the case is pendingfurther investigation because "this is the firstcase like this I've seen involving reimbursementof a scholarship to a homosexual cadet," said Lt.Col. John C. Blake, an Army spokesperson.
Students entering ROTC have to sign a statementsaying they are not gay and agree to a contractwhich allows the military to demand reimbursementof scholarship money if any part of enrollmentagreements are violated.
Holobaugh will speak at Harvard later thismonth, said members of the Anti-ROTC ActionCommittee, which spurred the current discussion bythe Faculty Council.
ARAC member Chad S. Johnson '89, a first-yearlaw student, said that he hoped the incident andHolobaugh's speaking appearance would "createawareness of ROTC's policies and humanize theeffects of ROTC policies."
Gregory B. Kasowski contributed to thereporting of this story.
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