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Under pressure from members of Congress and several prominent universities, the Secretary of the Navy has dropped demands that two former ROTC students discharged on account of their sexual orientation repay their scholarship funds to the government.
Navy officials said yesterday that because of "extenuating circumstances" in the cases of Harvard graduate David E. Carney '89 and MIT senior Robert L. Bettiker, these two students would not be required to give back their ROTC-funded tuition. Both students were discharged from ROTC after they told the Navy they were gay.
Although yesterday's announcement marked the first time the U.S. military has given ground on its exclusionary practices, Navy spokepersons said the decision did not represent an official policy change. They said the Navy might still seek reimbursement in future cases.
The students, who said they have still not received official confirmation from the Navy, said they welcomed the repayment waiver. But they added that the military has a long way to go in eliminating its discriminatory policies.
"I think it's a move in the right direction. It shows that the military is reacting and once it starts moving it's easier to keep going," Bettiker said.
According to Bettiker's attorney, Mary L. Bonauto of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the waiver is a "tacit admission" by the Navy that it was wrong in seeking reimbursement from the students.
But Bonauto said the action did not help other students who have also been dismissed from the ROTC program.
"It's great for those individuals but it still fails to address the crux of the problem which is the discriminatory policies themselves," said Bonauto. "It's one crack in the wall, but it's quite a thick wall."
Carney, who is currently studying at Oxford, agreed.
"This should not be read as naval policy," Carney said. "This action should not be seen as the course of action the Navy will take in the future."
Carney said that although the Navy's sudden about-face surprised him, the decision not to pursue the case was not entirely unexpected.
"I always felt I did what was right and what the Navy expected from me," said Carney. "I never thought in the end they would sue for the money. The Navy is not as mean-spirited as that."
The cases of Bettiker, Carney and James M. Holobaugh--a Washington University student dismissed from Army ROTC--have focused national attention on the military's anti-gay policy, and have galvanized support for gay activists both in the nation's capital and on college campuses across the country.
In March, 24 U.S. representatives issued a letter slamming Army ROTC for asking Holobaugh to pay back his scholarship. Shortly afterward, 35 representatives sent a similar letter to military officials about Bettiker and Carney.
Meanwhile, students and faculty at major universities nationwide have increased their pressure on the military.
On April 10, MIT Provost John M. Deutch sent a personal letter to Defense Secretary Richard Cheney, in which Deutch said many schools might end their ROTC programs if the discriminatory policy did not change. Last Wednesday, Harvard's Faculty Council voted to cut all ties with ROTC unless the military changed its policy in two years.
And yesterday, 47 percent of MIT students participating in a referendum said the school should cut ties with ROTC if its policies did not change within fouryears.
While Carney attributed the Navy's decision tothe recent activism, he said he was alarmed by the"irresponsible" efforts of some groups to haveuniversity ties to ROTC severed.
Last week, Carney sent Harvard President DerekC. Bok a letter urging him to use "persuasion"instead of threats when dealing with ROTC. Carneywrote that ROTC should only be kicked off campusas a "last resort."
"It's in Harvard's interest to give ROTC achance. For all of its faults--and there aremany--it serves an important function and allowsmany students to go to Harvard who wouldn'totherwise and adds to diversity," Carney wrote.
Carney said he hoped Bok would use hisinfluence to lobby personally in Washingtonagainst ROTC's antigay policies, either bytelephone or letter.
In an interview yesterday, Bok said he wasgathering information to apply "intellectualpressure" with a letter to the government. Headded that he has tentative plans to cosign aletter to the Pentagon written by Dean of theFaculty A. Michael Spence.
And like Carney, Bok said that while he hopedthe military would respond with a formal policychange, he was concerned that threats tocompletely cut ties with the program might becounterproductive.
"There is a serious questionabout how best to proceed, how best to weigh theinterests of people who want to takeROTC...against this policy," Bok said. "Let's hopewe can get some resolution at that stage withouthaving to confront the ultimate question ofwhether we stay in or not.
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