Students fight military policy

By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Daily Wildcat

"Homosexual conduct is grounds for barring entry or continued enrollment in the ROTC program ... I will be disenrolled from the ROTC program if ... I have engaged in, have attempted to engage in or have solicited another to engage in a homosexual act."

When two gay University of Arizona students were asked to agree to this statement on the first day of their Military Science 201 class this semester, they thought something was wrong.

"It was offensive to even have those forms in front of me," said Michael Clifton-Harter, a finance senior and Associated Students elections commissioner. He said this type of statement was not something he expected to be confronted with at a university that is "as progressive with affirmative action" as the UA is.

Now Clifton-Harter and Jonathan Bierner, a psychology junior and ASUA undergraduate senator, hope to encourage the university to reconsider the conflict between its nondiscrimination policy and the policy of the Reserve Officer Training Corps that operates on campus.

"The military is now pro-active and integrated regarding minorities and women, but in the '50s this issue could be the same, just replacing homosexuals with blacks or Hispanics," Clifton-Harter said. "The military should change their stance on this as they have with other minority issues."

The university's nondiscrimination policy prohibits discrimination that is prohibited by state and federal law, including discrimination based on race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability and Vietnam veteran status, said Helen Mautner, an affirmative action coordinator.

The university policy also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, although this is not based on a law, Mautner said.

"The university has a commitment not to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation," she said. "If a university department were to discriminate against people with different sexual orientations, we would find it to be inappro mid

private and a violation of university policy."

Mautner said no university department is exempt from the nondiscrimination policies. However, she said the university has a contract with the military science program which allows the department to abide by federal policy, even though it conflicts with the university's policy.

The federal policy under President Clinton regarding homosexuals in the military is "don't ask; don't tell." Homosexuals can participate in the military only if they do not engage in homosexual behavior or make it known that they are homosexual.

Mautner said ROTC students are required to sign a packet of information making them aware of the homosexuality policy before they join the program, but other students enrolled in military science classes must be treated under the university's nondiscrimination policy and are not required to abide by the policy, she said.

Clifton-Harter and Bierner said when they complained to John Hightower, military science department head, he told them that the department follows a "lawful discrimination" policy as determined by Congress and the president.

However, he told them it was a mistake to distribute the forms in their class and that they were told they did not need to sign that portion, they said.

Hightower was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Bierner and Clifton-Harter said they do not think it is enough to acknowledge this incident as a mistake. They said the military should not be able to discriminate against anyone in any way that is contrary to university's policy.

"Why should my tuition money be used to support a program that does not allow me to be a part of it?" Clifton-Harter said.

Mike Proctor, in the University Attorney's office, said he has discussed the issue with the students, but has not been able to determine if the forms are indeed discriminatory. He said this would depend on the content of the agreement between the UA and the military, which he said he was unable to find information on.

He said the attorney's office has never been asked to make an official opinion on the issue, and said as far as he knows the conflicting policies have never been an issue at the UA.

If necessary, Clifton-Harter said the students will attempt to get the Department of Defense to reconsider how the national military policy affects universities.

Bierner also said his ultimate goal is to convince the military science department that sexual orientation should no longer be an issue in the military and ROTC program, but acknowledges that such a goal may be unrealistic.

"Why can't what people do in their personal time be kept personal and a homosexual life-style just be considered a different life-style?" Bierner said. "Mike and I want to support the military, but how can we support a group that says they represent the population, but really only supports the heterosexual portion of the population?"

He said he does not "expect anything to change overnight," but said he hopes to inform the student body about the problem and that there are people who will deal with it.

"This decade is a gay revolution; it won't be violent, but it will be through a new understanding, almost a trend," he said.

Clifton-Harter said, "This will let us see if the student government and students really can change university policy."

The students said they hope to rewrite the policy so that it is "less offensive and condescending to gays."

Other options would be to try to remove the ROTC program from campus unless they followed the university-wide policy or to eliminate university funding for the program.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the UA students are not alone in their fight. About 150 universities have adopted policies that prohibit discrimination against gays, and many campuses across the country, including University of California-Los Angeles, have unsuccessfully attempted to ban the ROTC programs from campus unless they agree to follow university nondiscrimination policies.

Clifton-Harter said he thinks the issue has not surfaced at the UA sooner because "when sexual orientation was added to the (nondiscrimination) policy, people in different departments just said 'OK' and didn't look at what needed to be changed in their department to meet the policy."

Bierner said the policy has perpetuated because no one has been willing to challenge it before.

"It's scary. We are up against the entire heterosexual population," he said.

The students said they have met with various administrators including Dean of Students Melissa Vito and Saundra Taylor, vice president of student affairs who were very cooperative, but felt the students, and not the administration, should confront the issue.

Both students decided to remain in the military science class because they said they enjoy the class, which teaches self defense, marksmanship and rappelling.

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