October 24, 2010

As ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Hangs in Limbo, Cornell Grapples With Repercussions

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Like many branches of the U.S. Military, Cornell Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and other Ivy League ROTC programs are grappling with the recently-stayed court injunction against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” — a policy that forbids gays and lesbians from openly serving in the armed forces.

With the largest and most robust ROTC program in the Ivy League, Cornell is directly affected by changes in the DADT policy. Thirty-four Cornell cadets participate in Army ROTC while the school also hosts Naval and Air Force units.

The back-and-forth legal posturing began on Oct.13 with a federal district court judge’s global injunction of DADT. The Department of Justice under the Obama administration appealed the policy and U.S. Ninth Court of Appeals stayed the injunction on Oct. 20. The stay will hold until Monday at the earliest.

President Barack Obama’s appeal of the injunction was unnecessary, according to Prof. Michael Dorf, law.

“Under a strongly ‘departmentalist’ view — i.e., a view that gives each branch … of the government an equal say in construing the Constitution — the President has a duty to follow his own view; here, by hypothesis, that would mean not defending the law,” Dorf stated in an e-mail.

The Cornell ROTC program is trying to make sense of the legal back-and-forth.

“We are in squat-hold status — waiting to see how our government acts on the issue,” said Lt. Col. Steven Alexander, professor of military science.

A Closeted Cadet’s View

One gay cadet in the Cornell ROTC program said, “I was excited to hear that it was suspended … but I knew that the Department of Defense was ready to appeal [the injunction] … it seemed that nothing changed, as it was yet another day in the army.”

Due to the nature of DADT, the cadet requested anonymity.

“It’s funny and ironic,” the cadet said. “I look in the mirror, uniformed, and I think ‘Wow, being in the military and being gay — it’s a coping mechanism, to laugh.’”

Alexander urged cadets to continue to adhere to DADT until the legal status of the policy is more concrete.

“Worse case scenario — somebody comes in who’s gay and they don’t change the law,” Alexander said. “We do not want to jeopardize their opportunities.”

The cadet commented on how the aftermath of the DADT policy will affect his life.

“When the policy changes I’ll be able to take a same-sex date to our formal event — or I’ll be free around campus to hold hands with the person I like.”

The cadet said that repealing the policy will have retroactive effects on those individuals who were discharged because of the policy.

“After DADT is repealed, a lot of people will want to go back into the armed forces,” he said. “I know somebody who was discharged based on the policy … she is now in the process to re-enlist.”

Whether or not DADT remains military policy in the coming years, the cadet said he will remain in the armed forces despite challenges he may face.

“I don’t know how much DADT will affect me … right now I see it as an obstacle that I will overcome,” he said. Prof. Ritch Savin-Williams, developmental psychology and director of Cornell’s Sex & Gender Lab, researches the repercussions of concealing one’s sexual identity.

“There’s a lot of stress to be careful of things you say or places you look,” Savin-Williams said. “Your life has to be pretty compartmentalized and very secretive. Basically, you almost always have to watch your guard, be careful of who you can or cannot trust.”

Cornell ROTC, DADT and University Policy

“At Cornell, the only thing that’s keeping [ROTC] from being like every other academic department is ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’” Alexander said.

However, unlike most other Ivies, the University awards academic credit for ROTC. Cornell ROTC is also a magnet program in the region, instructing students from schools without ROTC programs, including SUNY Binghamton, Elmira College, Ithaca College, SUNY Cortland and Wells College.

Army ROTC offers a monthly stipend ranging from $300-500 a month and, for cadets with scholarships, $149,000 of tuition paid by the U.S. Government. Scholarship winners have a service commitment of four years of active-duty after college or eight years of reserve duty. According to Alexander, Cornell’s implementation of a military policy replacing DADT would be relatively simple.

“There are no grand plans for if [or] when DADT is overturned other than accepting folks who openly state their sexual orientation,” Alexander said.

Senior Vice Provost Ron Seeber, the administrator who directly supervises Cornell ROTC, agreed.

“Cornell ROTC is an independent military operation and the repeal of DADT would not affect ROTC that much,” Seeber said.

Isaac Todd ’11, training officer for ROTC, echoed these remarks.

“DADT can’t drastically affect our enrollment — there won’t be people leaving us or not joining,” Todd said. “It however does affect soldiers who have to conceal their identity — they should be able to express it … there doesn’t seem to be any reason why this policy should exist.”

Historically, DADT has spurred some controversy at Cornell. In 1998, two midshipmen of Naval ROTC were dismissed after being forcibly ‘outed’ by fellow ROTC members.

DADT is still in effect, in spite of Obama’s pledge to repeal the policy. This past spring, President David Skorton wrote President Obama about the issue.

“From our perspective as educators, this policy is detrimental to both our students and the nation,” Skorton’s letter said. Seeber referenced the letter, adding, “The repeal of DADT would be good for Cornell ROTC.”

DADT and Cornell’s non-discrimination policy

The extension of DADT policy to Cornell ROTC raises questions about the University’s non-discrimination policy, which prohibits faculty and staff from discriminating against students under certain protected classes. According to Cornell’s “prohibited discrimination” policy, the protected groups include “individual’s or group’s actual or perceived age, color, creed, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status, or any combination of these factors.”

Since ROTC receives University funding, the program technically violates this policy.

“About 10 percent of our overall budget is from Cornell and 90 percent is from the Army,” Alexander clarified.The University “prohibited discrimination” policy aims to assist the University “to comply with federal, state and local legal mandates.” DADT, as a federal policy, takes precedence over the University’s specific non-discrimination clause.

The University Counsel’s office was not available to comment for this article.

DADT and ROTC in the Ivy League

Harvard, Yale, Brown and Columbia withhold outright recognition of any ROTC programs on the basis that ROTC via the DADT policy is inherently discriminatory, Alexander said. If a student wants to enlist in ROTC, the schools require him or her to travel to a nearby college’s program. The four universities offer no academic credit for ROTC.

The other three Ivies, Penn, Princeton and Dartmouth offer limited recognition of the program. Penn sponsors Navy ROTC while Princeton and Dartmouth host Army ROTC.

A change in DADT could entail ROTC’s return to some Ivy League campuses for the first time since the Vietnam War era — when students occupied buildings and utilized other controversial methods to protest ROTC’s presence and recruiting on campus.

At Princeton, Major Greg Vinciguerra, assistant professor of military science, thought that removing DADT said he would lead to normalized recognition.

“The repeal of DADT may open up conversations of accreditation as the accreditation part is the only real issue,” Vinciguerra said.

At Harvard, John P. Wheeler, former Chairman of the Vietnam War Memorial Fund, has pioneered efforts to bring ROTC back to his alma mater.“I’ve been fighting to get the ROTC ban lifted for years,” Wheeler said. “The ban is not about what Harvard says — it’s about deliberately insulting those who defend our country. Ever since, Harvard has kept finding a new excuse but the real purpose has never changed,” he added via e-mail.

Harvard’s media relations coordinator was not available to comment for this article.

Michael Segal, organizer of the group Advocates for ROTC at Harvard, said he believes that the repeal of DADT might bring some logistical problems in the military. “It will be more like the integration of women into the army [as opposed to something like racial desegregation],” he said, citing the need for infrastructural changes to accommodate the nature of the policy change. “The return of ROTC will also raise issues. The military also has concern about the universities — will there be a positive climate? Will the university offer academic credit or financial support?”

Repercussions of DADT

Since the implementation of DADT in 1993, more than 11,000 military members have been discharged.

According to a report by the Williams Institute, a clinic affiliated with UCLA Law School, “The ‘DADT policy has cost the military between $290 million and more than a half a billion dollars … the military spends an estimated $22,000 to $43,000 per person to replace those discharged under DADT,” the report detailed.

According to Savin-Williams, “DADT is an official societal position that discriminates … it gives a message to the culture at large that these types of stereotypes, the reason why we exclude gays and lesbians from the military — they must be true.”

Todd concurred.

“DADT makes it more acceptable for homophobic comments to be made.”As DADT faces judicial and legislative scrutiny, there is hope, according to Alexander.“Finally, it looks like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Alexander said.

Original Author: Max Schindler