A squad of ROTC students at Cal State Long Beach spent a recent Tuesday preparing for war.
They attended classes on military history and troop management, then stood at attention in a campus quad to hear announcements and salute their superiors. After marching in formation out to an athletic field, they performed a series of exercises, including push-ups and sit-ups.
Lately, however, the cadets and officials of the Reserve Officer Training Corps have been under verbal attack--from an outspoken group of students and professors who want the program banned from campus because it discriminates against homosexuals, a violation of university policy.
One of the critics, Jack Munsee, a physics professor, recently persuaded the campus Academic Senate, an advisory group of elected faculty representatives, to initiate proceedings that could eventually result in the program’s ouster.
“I never want it said of me that I was silent over this injustice,” Munsee said.
ROTC officials, most of whom are in the military, say they are following Defense Department rules banning gays from military service. Homosexual students are allowed to take ROTC classes for academic credit at Cal State Long Beach and most other colleges, but they are not eligible for the $100-per-month stipend that most upper-division participants receive. They also are not allowed to become regular cadets their third year, the time when most participants promise to become military officers upon graduation.
“We serve two masters, a civilian boss on campus and a military boss in (Washington),” said Lt. Col. Andrew Peterson, a professor of military science and director of the university’s Army ROTC. “What we have here is a conflict between the Department of Defense and the university, with the ROTC in the middle.”
But he made it clear which master has more clout. “I have to enforce government policy,” he said.
ROTC students and administrators said their program provides a valuable service and ought to be preserved.
Peterson pointed out that ROTC contributes a stream of liberally educated officers with roots in civilian life. ROTC students and administrators also argue that an ROTC ban would discriminate against students who depend on the program for scholarships and to pave the way for a military career. Many of these students are minorities, he added.
The ROTC controversy first erupted at Cal State Northridge, then spread to other California State University campuses.
The Cal State Northridge Faculty Senate voted to eliminate the ROTC program there because of its adherence to the Defense Department’s anti-gay policy. Northridge President James W. Cleary eventually rejected the recommendation, citing an opinion by university lawyers that there was no legal basis for doing away with ROTC.
Cleary wrote that, while he personally found the anti-homosexual policy “deplorable” and worthy of abolition, “banning an academic program simply because we are in disagreement with a policy of a profession which is serviced by this program is antithetical to the nature of an open university.”
The issue then was taken up by the state Academic Senate, consisting of faculty representatives from all 19 California State University campuses. The group adopted a resolution condemning the Defense Department and urged faculties of each campus to begin taking steps to remove ROTC if the department policy is not rescinded by Jan. 1. Local ROTC officials say they have received no indication the department plans to change its policy.
Faculty groups at Cal State Hayward, Cal State Pomona and Cal State Bakersfield have also passed anti-ROTC resolutions. One private institution, Pitzer College in Claremont, banned ROTC earlier this year.
Ultimately, each university president will decide ROTC’s fate.
Campus officer training programs throughout the country were attacked in the late 1960s and early 1970s by opponents of the Vietnam War. Some programs were closed, and others experienced dwindling enrollments.
The first ROTC programs were established only six years ago at Cal State Long Beach, however. About 150 students participate in Army and Air Force ROTC programs on campus.
Physics professor Munsee led the ROTC protest, and found support among members of the campus Gay and Lesbian Student Union, who cited studies that they said indicate that the presence of homosexuals in the military would not hamper national defense.
“As long as there is discrimination going on for one person or small group of people, then it’s possible for discrimination to go on against others,” said Heather Haskell, the organization’s treasurer. “We should fight discrimination on all levels.”
Two months ago, after a spirited debate, the campus Academic Senate approved the resolution endorsing the state faculty’s position and initiating the procedure for discontinuing ROTC.
In accordance with university procedure, the group voted to form a committee to hold hearings on the issue and submit a report next fall to university president Curtis L. McCray, who will make the final decision.
McCray says he has an open mind on the subject. “We are attempting to give everybody an equal shake and if any of our programs, either directly or de facto, have impact on students because of their differences, then (those programs) have to be looked at.”
In the meantime, the ROTC students continue their program. While many say that they would have no personal qualms about serving on military duty with open homosexuals, opinion is somewhat divided on whether the government’s anti-gay policy ought to be changed.
“I don’t think they’re a legitimate minority,” said Joe Ingram, a 26-year-old political science major in the last semester of the four-year program. “These people have chosen to be a minority and therefore shouldn’t receive the kind of benefits that legitimate minorities receive.”
Lisa Pantano, a 28-year-old fine arts major who already has been commissioned as an Army lieutenant, disagrees. “Personally, I don’t think sexual orientation should have anything to do with it,” she said. “There are already a lot of slime-ball heterosexuals in the service.”
Some of the cadets acknowledge, however, that they are a bit concerned about ROTC’s uncertain future on campus.
“If worse comes to worse,” said Joselito Sto Thomas, 28, “we’ll just go to UCLA and drill over there. (But) that would be a major hassle.”