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Questions about 'Don't ask, don't tell'

To the Editor:

Clearly the matter of the continued military presence at Penn is an unsettling situation for nearly everyone, one which would be easily resolved if the federal government discontinues preventing LGBT people from serving openly in the military, something President Obama has pledged will happen. Until then, however, the University will be forced (reluctantly) to choose federal funding over its deeply held principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In my remarks at the recent Law School event, I cited the Supreme Court decision which upheld the Solomon Amendment (1996), not the Amendment itself. That decision pertains to military recruiters. Some may say it applies by extension to ROTC. I am not so sure.

I have several questions, which I wish had been asked by the DP in conjunction with its recent article on the subject (2/16/09). What "federal guidelines" does the University follow when it claims that expenditures are required to avoid "restricting" the operations of ROTC? If it is the Supreme Court decision, its applicability to ROTC and the necessity to subsidize it may well be misinterpretations.

What constitutes the "modest costs" expended? Is use of Hollenbeck Hall and maintenance thereof provided at no cost to the DOD? What about phone lines, e-mail accounts and clerical and technical support? What are the total costs?

Finally, I wonder to what "other departments and organizations" the University is comparing ROTC in determining its course of action and expenditures. An organization such as Hillel, which serves many more Penn students than ROTC, built its own campus home with private dollars, covers all staff salaries, pays for phone lines and e-mail accounts and rents additional space from the University (such as in the Quad) when needed for satellite programming. Many other such organizations, housed on campus but not part of Penn, cover their costs in similar fashion.

Whether or not they deserve to be on campus, and regardless of what good they may do for students, I feel certain that, until federal policy changes and they discontinue violating University policy, an arrangement can be made for military recruiters and NROTC to be at Penn without using its ever-more limited resources to pay them to be here.

Bob Schoenberg

The author is the director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center

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