Council: The January Dialogue on ROTC

At Council on January 17, the Provost's report included a statement on the current status of negotiations toward an "arm's-length" relationship with the ROTC. This led to the exchange below with Dr. Larry Gross, professor of communication at the Annenberg School of Communication.

Dr. Chodorow: ROTC was an issue that came up apparently last time [November 29] when I was away, and I have been asked to comment on it now.

At that meeting, it was reported that I had met with the Secretary of the Navy and that he had made it clear he was not much interested in pursuing the arm's-length arrangement we are seeking. It's true that is the position that he expressed at that meetingnot as a formal decision, but certainly it becomes the basis upon which further negotiations, if any, would take place in the near future with the Navy.

However, the Navy is only one of the ROTC programs, and my conversations with the Army have been continuingI have recently had a meeting with the regional commanders; those conversations are open and ongoing, and they could turn out to be productive.

One of the things I've learned is that the Pentagon is not only a complicated place, but a place where things change. Last summer when I was pursuing a discussion with the national leadership of ROTC, the day before I was supposed to meet them the command changed all new characters. It took them about two months to appoint a new national director; and the regional officers rotate out in a very short time.

But conversations with the Army continue, and I suppose the most important thing about dealing with the Pentagon and with the Defense Department is just don't give up. And I can report that we are not giving up. I hope that I will be able to report later this year on how those conversations with the Army are turning out and whether in fact we've had any further conversations with the Navy.

I think it is important to keep in mind, by the way, that this is a two-sided discussion. The President and I were in effect instructed by Council at the very beginning of our tenure here not to make a unilateral decision, and we are not. We are in negotiations with a partner, in fact with more than one partner; and that is complicated. For that you you need persistence, and that's what we are trying to give it.

Dr. Gross: I was unfortunately not here at the last meeting when this was discussed in open forum, but then neither was the Provost, so we're in the same situation. I originally introduced a resolution in Council in the spring of 1990 requesting that the University end its relationship with ROTC after a certain period, if the continuing violation of the University's adopted principles continues.

There has been a long and somewhat tortuous history since then. That resolution was passed unanimously, supported both by the President and Provost at that time. Later, in an attempt to avoid, in effect, the direct implications of that resolution, the issue was referred to the Senate Committee on Conduct to look into the question of whether in fact discrimination was occurring. That committee subsequently reported that yes, discrimination was occurring and it once again came back to Council, which urged that the original resolution be acted on.

The next stage involved another committee...which came back with a somewhat more complex proposal, but the bottom line as I understand it has continued to be that the University should not tolerate a situation in which its self-proclaimed policies are being violated.

And I would ask the question, "Which, or how many, of our policies are we willing to countenance violation of in order to achieve other ends?" I think it's a very interesting and important question for us to ask. When this issue has come before University Council or other bodies, the answer has always been that we should not continue to countenance a violation of our policies.

Obviously there are reasons, and not inconsiderable ones, why we do not wish to end the benefits that ROTC provides, which is where the arm's -length type of compromise came in. But my understanding has been that Council has repeatedly expressed, [as have] other bodies concerned, that the University should not willingly or through delayed, tardy, slow inaction, permit this sort of violation of our principles.

I assume, somewhere, you have a complete, very large file of all this. I would draw your attention to one document in that file that might be useful in the present circumstances. This is a letter written in April of 1990, by then-Provost John Deutch of M.I.T. to then-Secretary of De-fense Dick Cheney, in which Deutch expresses his belief that the ROTC policy is wrong and shortsighted, as he expresses his belief that the military policy is wrong and shortsighted, and his belief that the DOD should reverse this discriminatory policy just as it has prior discriminatory policies against blacks and women. He goes on to argue quite cogently why he believes the DOD policy should change, and the dangers both to the Department of Defense and to the academic establishment if this does not happen.

Given that then-Provost Deutch has since been made Deputy Secretary of Defense and is now Director of Central Intelligence: As my sociologist colleagues like to say, position is perspective, so unless he has completely forgotten, he might be called upon as someone who still has ties with the academic community to raise some of these issues within the present discussions.

But I think the basic point is that after a while (and this is not a new experience, but an experience that has occurred whenever institutions have confronted institutionalized discrimination) the process of endless delay, of hair-splitting, and of shifting the termsso that you're constantly being pushed in one direction or anotherultimately does not change the situation.

I think the University cannot endlessly avoid having to confront the question of whether or not it stands behind the principles that it proclaims it adopts.

And I would very much not wish us to reach the end of another academic year with another dangling question of "We'll get back to it," and "We'll continue to talk." That would really be, among other things, a demonstration that discussions and resolutions in Council are ultimately not an effective way for this University to face policy issues, because Council has spoken on this numerous times. Thank you.

Dr. Chodorow: Let me say that I hear you, and that when we got here, and this issue became ours, the vote in Council was described as equivocal, in that Council accepted most of the recommendations of the committee that had made its report just as we were arriving, and rejected a critical part of that recommendation. And I've been operating in response to that vote. Beyond that I would say that some of this is a discussion of strategy: How do you accomplish this? I take your point that after enough time has passed, it proves a strategy right or wrong. I hope that we can in fact bring closure to this very shortly. But I hear you.

Dr. Gross: There is a certain pattern, in fact you may recall William Penn's experience with the British law, where you can keep going back until you get the answer you want. It seems to me that Council, the Committee on Conduct, and other bodies have consistently taken the position that the University should not countenance violating its principles. There is history of that last discussion of the report, a complicated history of who was or was not at a critical meeting of that committee, which is why the report took the form it did. But the fact is that the basic principle has always been maintained, which is that there is a serious challenge to the University's commitment to its own principles, and that needs to be addressed not to take refuge in one of many discussions in Council might have said or not said.

The principle has never been simply end-all, we have tried to salvage the good in the situation. But ultimately, if it cannot be salvaged except at the cost of the University's principles, it is my reading, at least, of a number of discussions in a number of venues, that the implications of that is that the University has to decide whether or not it means what it says in its policies.


February 6, 1996

Volume 42 Number 19

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