Lieberman sees ROTC benefiting from repeal of military ban on gays

Capable people are not signing up for military service because of the "don't ask, don't tell" law and the refusal of some colleges to allow Reserve Officers' Training Corps units on campus, according to U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.

In a bill he introduced Wednesday to allow openly gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals to serve in the Armed Forces, Lieberman included a provision that requires a report to Congress on whether the defense secretary is enforcing the law that denies federal funds to colleges that block the establishment of ROTC units.

Lieberman attributes the colleges' refusal to allow the units to the fact that "don't ask, don't tell" is contrary to their nondiscrimination policies.

"'Don't ask, don't tell' diminishes the military's readiness because it limits the pool of Americans that might be thinking about enlisting in our military," Lieberman, D-Conn., said in a press conference call Thursday. "If ROTC can't recruit on campus, we do not have the opportunity to get other kinds of people on campus into the military… They tie together."

Many schools, including Yale University, initially told ROTC units to leave campus around 1970, amid the growing unrest over the Vietnam War. "Don't ask, don't tell" later became one of the reasons the colleges kept the units off campus.

Yale took issue with granting academic credit for military courses, responsibility for costs and the right of students to withdraw from ROTC without penalty. ROTC has also been unpopular with the student body.

"Yale has been fairly hostile to ROTC," said Amalia Skilton, coordinator of the university's LGBT political action group, Fierce Advocates. "That is the history, and repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' would not cause ROTC to be welcomed back to campus. There would still be opposition."

Some students, she said, "have misgivings about American foreign policy and would not want an instrument of that policy on campus," while others are anti-military or anti-establishment.

Kathleen Sullivan, a Stanford University spokeswoman, called it a "complicated issue," with the "don't ask, don't tell" law still remaining "a factor" in the university's decision not to offer an ROTC program.

ROTC was phased out at Stanford in the early 1970s, but the university gave another university permission to hold Army ROTC classes on its campus in 1997. It was a controversial decision, with faculty and students raising the discrimination issue, Sullivan said.

Thursday afternoon, in anticipation of the law's repeal, two professors, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and David Kennedy, made a presentation to the faculty senate, arguing that having an ROTC program at Stanford would be good for the students, the military and the country.

"For the foreseeable future, this country is going to have a military and it's a good idea that it be supplied by graduates of, not to be snobbish about it, our leading universities," Kennedy said, adding that "don't ask, don't tell" has been a "sticking point" in discussions about bringing ROTC back to Stanford.

The faculty voted to form a committee to study the issue.

Lieberman wants ROTC units established at "elite colleges," like Yale and Stanford. Federal law allows the denial of federal funds for barring an ROTC unit on campus.

Yale students can sign up for ROTC, which is why the school has not lost federal funding, but they have to travel to the unit at the University of Connecticut for training. Other universities set up similar arrangements to avoid losing federal funding. Brown University students go to the ROTC program at Providence College.

Harvard University students have participated in ROTC since the early 1970s through the regional program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with students from other area colleges and universities.

"There are not currently any plans to modify the arrangement," said John Longbrake, a university spokesman, who added that the university will "of course follow any federal policy changes with interest."

Thomas Conroy, a Yale spokesman, said the university is "proud and supportive of our students who choose ROTC," but for many years "the number of interested students has fallen short of what it would take to support a unit."

The military will be a more attractive option to more Yale students once the law is repealed, Conroy said, especially if the Armed Forces place a unit "nearer to Yale's campus."

Fierce Advocates, the LGBT political action group, lobbied Lieberman to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." Skilton said the group is still researching how the bill, including the ROTC provision, would affect the transgender community.

Lieberman plans to offer the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" as an amendment when the Senate Armed Services Committee discusses the defense authorization bill in May. He said it could go to the Senate floor in July or September, depending on the schedule for other votes.

"People favor repeal, attitudes are changing in the military and support is growing here in Congress," he said. "If the repeal bill came to a vote on the floor of the Senate tomorrow, we would probably get over 50 people voting to repeal. But I'm confident, unfortunately, that we would not get 60. That's our challenge and that's what we'll go to work on."

j.grogan@theday.com

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments