Hopkins to decide fate of its ROTC

April 02, 1995|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,Sun Staff Writer

As his term draws to a close, Johns Hopkins University President William C. Richardson finally will confront one of the thorniest of issues: whether to throw the Reserve Officers' Training Corps off campus because federal policy does not allow openly gay people in the military.

In deciding, Dr. Richardson will wade into an issue that embroiled President Clinton during his first months in office. Mr. Clinton dropped his promise to lift the ban on gays in the military in favor of a "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy.

But advocates said that gays have been discharged at the same rate as before the policy. And last week, a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled that the Clinton policy was unconstitutional and the judge protected six homosexual servicemen and women from disciplinary action. The Justice Department intends to appeal.

Though Dr. Richardson has publicly denounced the policy and lobbied federal officials to drop it, denying the Pentagon its home on the campus is delicate: The U.S. government, led by the Department of Defense, contributes roughly half the university's total budget. In fiscal year 1993, for example, Hopkins received $673.6 million in federal research funds, more than any other university in the country, according to National Science Foundation statistics.

For years, the university has maintained a policy that bars discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation. But the conflict between school policy and military regulation has simmered on the Homewood campus since 1990, when students demonstrated against the ROTC's ban. The administration appointed an advisory panel and announced it would resolve the issue in five years if the government did not act first.

"The university didn't want to take action. It has adopted a wait-and-see attitude," said Hopkins senior Rick Sharma, an Army ROTC cadet who is on the advisory task force. "The wait is done, and the see is right now," he said.

"If ROTC is allowed to continue, I think the university loses its integrity," said Hopkins junior Doug Armstrong, another task force member who is also president of the campus Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance. "The university has made a choice not to discriminate on any grounds. They need to stand by that position and stand by it uniformly and consistently."

The ROTC provides scholarships and military training to students in exchange for service as officers after graduation. Approximately 70 percent of all officers in the U.S. armed forces are graduates of college ROTC programs.

"By kicking us off campus, it doesn't change government policy," said Lt. Col. David L. Partain, professor of military science at Hopkins. "It's not something that we have control over on any level.

"There's a polarization between the military and the civil sector, and that's unfortunate," Colonel Partain said. "By training people and giving them a period of time in the military, . . . we give them a cross-pollination."

The Hopkins Army ROTC is the oldest one established under 1916 federal legislation creating the modern campus-based ROTC unit. Roughly 60 students are enrolled in the Hopkins Army ROTC program, about 80 percent of whom are Hopkins students. Other students come from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Towson State University and the University of Baltimore, which do not have ROTC units.

Barbara Samuels, spokeswoman for the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said ROTC's continued existence, given Defense Department policy, violates city laws on discrimination against gays. Campus officials suggested federal law supersedes local ordinance. Administrators could recall no instance in which a Hopkins ROTC cadet or graduate revealed that he or she was gay.

Nationally, colleges have clumsily navigated the contradiction between campus-based nondiscrimination policies and the regulation of the U.S. Armed Forces. At Harvard University, for example, alumni donors pay for undergraduates to enroll at the ROTC program of the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At Dartmouth College, President James O. Freedman accepted the recommendation of the faculty senate to dissolve the ROTC program, but college trustees overruled that decision. Several other schools have carved out exceptions to their anti-discrimination policies, exempting the ROTC units.

In Maryland, University of Maryland College Park, Loyola College and Morgan State University also have ROTC units, but the question of sexual orientation has not emerged as a flash point on those campuses.

The American Association of University Professors, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of Universities have all called for the military's policy to be changed.

A Hopkins survey of students, faculty and staff conducted this winter for the task force indicated that most respondents opposed both the military's policy toward gays and the idea of abolishing ROTC at Hopkins.

Dr. Richardson will leave office June 15 and will become president of the Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., in August. He has promised to make a decision before his departure. He declined to be interviewed for this article, saying he did not want to influence the deliberations of the task force on ROTC.

But Michael R. Bloomberg, vice chairman of the board of trustees, said last month that it was probably better to fight against the Defense Department policy than to dislodge the ROTC program altogether.

"We would be better off working within the organization," Mr. Bloomberg said at a forum with students about choosing a successor to Dr. Richardson. "The Defense Department does not have the same policies in terms of freedoms that this university has. It protects us, it gives us these same freedoms that allow us to have this discussion. There is no easy answer."

The task force will make a recommendation by the end of April, said associate dean Robert J. Massa, chairman of the panel.

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