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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Military's gay policy stirs controversy at UH

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

The ROTC controversy is back, this time with a new twist.

Students are supporting the formation of a new Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, while the faculty are opposing it.

Of course, the lines aren't as simple as they were 30 years ago when ROTC programs on campuses across the country drew the ire of students opposed to the war in Vietnam.

This time, the controversy involves scholarships, discrimination based on sexual preference, military policy and academic integrity.

"It's not like we're pushing this. We've been evaluating this, and taking it out for consultation," said Karl Kim, UH interim vice president for academic affairs.

The UH-Manoa Faculty Senate has voted against allowing the establishment of a Navy ROTC program on campus because of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals, along with the lack of academic oversight of the military courses.

Professor Robert Bley-Vroman, a senate member who questioned allowing the program on campus, said it's his understanding that students who "come out of the closet" could lose their scholarships because of the military policy on homosexuality.

"If you poll the people who voted against it, most are sympathetic to the idea we need to have civilian soldiers and it's a good thing if you can get a degree from something besides a military training academy," Bley-Vroman said. "But there are concerns about the discriminatory scholarships which in principle we're opposed to, and also the lack of scrutiny of the content of the courses and the qualifications of the instructors."

Meanwhile, the student senate has voted in favor of a Navy ROTC program — because of the scholarships it offers and the Navy leadership career track option that it makes available.

"The majority voted for it to provide an opportunity for more students to come to the university without paying tuition," said Lu'ukia Archer, vice president of the Associated Students of the University of Hawai'i, the organization that represents students. But there was still spirited opposition within the student government, based around the issue of increasing the military presence in Hawai'i, especially with the threat of a war with Iraq, she said.

If instituted on campus, the Navy ROTC scholarships would provide $1,000-a-month stipends for 80 students. Both the Air Force and Army ROTC programs have been part of campus for many years, with about 175 and 150 students, respectively.

The ball is back in the administration's court, and Bley-Vroman hopes that some sort of a compromise can be worked out.

"The issue would be to try to conceive of a way of doing good civilian training of military officers in a way that would fit in well with the academic system of the university," he said. "If I were the administration, I'd be working on ways to do it right, rather than waiting for things to come to a difficult head with existing programs."

He said that other institutions across the country have set a standard to follow by choosing to pick up the costs of the scholarships for any students who did come out of the closet and were subject to losing their scholarships.

Kim said the administration is looking further into the situation and exploring alternatives, especially regarding the "don't ask, don't tell" issue if a scholarship-holder should disclose sexual orientation.

"We're looking at ways in which we could develop a response, a litigation for that," Kim said. "Other schools cover the tuition, so students don't lose that."

Bley-Vroman points out that with the faculty opposition to a Navy ROTC program, a contradiction is evident on campus because the existing ROTC programs have no academic oversight, and students could also be subject to scholarship loss because of military policy.

"No one's interested in going to the barricades," he said. "We hope people are acting with good will and creativity to solve a contradiction here."

Professor Paul Chandler, who headed the faculty senate committee that researched the issue, said it's this contradiction that bothers some members of the faculty.

"Although nobody's raised the issue," he said, "those (other ROTC programs) may end up getting kicked off campus."

Kim said that while the administration isn't pushing the new program, considering the demand for it by students, the UH leadership will continue to "consider the full range of perspectives."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.