Since the Vietnam War era, ROTC has operated away from most elite university campuses, marginalized by a leftist majority against war and militarization. But yesterday, rhetorically due to the end of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in any branch of the U.S. armed forces, the Stanford Faculty Senate voted by an overwhelming majority to allow ROTC back on campus. Students now, instead of having to go to neighboring campuses to learn how to be military leaders in the Reserves, can learn that on campus, in campus buildings. Classes will be taught in military leadership and history, and will be open to all students.
The sticking point for many, besides those who are simply against war, is that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell did not eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Transgendered people, or folks who expressly identify with a gender other than that which their X-Y chromosomal sex would dictate, are still barred from serving, and hence barred from the ROTC.
I don’t have a strong opinion on whether Stanford should bring the ROTC back to campus. But I do think that in this case, the Senate’s reasoning is shaky, at best.
Point #1. The Senate made its decision after a Commission, formed to examine the issue of bringing ROTC back, released its report last week that favored the change. The report says that “ROTC’s return to Stanford would contribute to a better-educated officer corps, one more able to make judgments with ‘a high sense of moral principle and secure commitment to the rule of law.'”
Smarter people are NOT morally stronger people. In many cases, they are morally weaker. They use their intellect to rationalize injustice and inhumanity. Education is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think anyone has ever (convincingly) made the case that education is better for morality. Nor is it better for a commitment to the rule of law. Believe me, I sit in classrooms with the future elite lawyers of our generation. If anyone lacks a strong moral compass, it is these people. In an exercise last week, we were negotiating a settlement between a woman who knowingly had sex without a condom although she had a lethal sexually transmitted disease. She thought she gave it to this man, and wanted to pay for his medical bills. He wants to sue her, and she agrees to settle for $300K from her, aided by his attorneys.
Come to find out, he never had the disease. A professor last week had to spend several minutes explaining to the attorneys for the man how aiding a client in committing fraud was itself a criminal offense. These law students, at the number two law school in the country, believed that as long as they did not actually utter a lie meant that they were morally okay. They did not have a commitment to the rule of law; they instead want to figure out every way to circumvent the law.
Point #2. Faculty who voted yes acknowledged the lingering discrimination against transgendered folks, but decided that the benefits outweighed this cost. In other words, a little bit of discrimination is okay. A prominent law professor (see above about education and morality) says
he struggled with his decision to vote yes. He said he believes that the military wrongly discriminates against transgender people but that having future military leaders meet such students on campus would eventually lead to the end of that policy. “The answer is exposure to diversity,” he said.
The “exposure” thesis has been proposed and rejected time and time again. First, it doesn’t make any sense. A stigmatized group who is actively being discriminated against generally does not risk detection because they are being discriminated against. One cannot be exposed to something that is afraid to come out of the shadows.
Second, even if exposure was happening, it may not be enough. The example is extreme, but white folks were exposed to black folks for 400 years without a change in the status of the latter. It was called slavery. After that, there was another 100 years of quasi-equality and no change in the status of the latter. It was called Jim Crow. There is a reason marginalized groups have fought for equality under the law and equality of treatment in a formal sense. Exposure does nothing if there is not active concerted effort to integrate, equalize, and promote understanding. History has proved time and time again that these processes do not just work out on their own through some invisible hand of social engineering.
Third, look around any campus and guess what you see? Whites here, blacks there, Asians over there, queers right about there. Studies show that diversity is not enough – kids who go to integrated schools are more likely to have friends who are more like them than unlike them. Birds of a feather.
If you are going to make a decision, just make it. But don’t rationalize discrimination. Don’t insult less-educated folks. Just say this is what the fvck we wanted to do and leave it at that. Otherwise perpetuating these myths is dangerous and extremely damaging to put on the official record. It makes us look stupid – if we, as a world class institution can’t be honest and truthful, who can? Oh, yeah, this is what I was saying about education and morality…