Mail Room

By The Editors / July / August 2002
June 29th, 2007

The ROTC Debate

Thank you, Zachary Block '99, for "The Cadet" (May/June). It was evident that a great deal of research went into the article, which seemed to me to be refreshingly unbiased. While I always valued the many differing opinions held by students at Brown, it was frustrating when I couldn't have an objective discussion about ROTC and military service there. Block seems to have accomplished that.

It is also good to see that interaction between Brown and Providence College appears to be growing. I hope it continues.

Best of luck to Cadet Hull and the rest of the PC cadets.

Robert Cybulski '00
Linden, N.C.

The writer is a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps.

I understand that Brown added summer classes to get the ROTC members of the class of 1944 off to war early. My dad, Raymond M. Durfee '44, was one of those navy cadets. The fact that ROTC is no longer at Brown is a sore subject that he often brings up in conversation. While our two generations may often see war in a different light, we both agree on ROTC. We both feel it is absurd that Brown refuses to prepare America's best and brightest to command our military.

David A. Durfee '80

Zachary Block's account of ROTC's absence from campus fails to note that the military's gay ban is inconsistent with Brown's tradition of nondiscrimination. The military is the only branch of government that fires people who say they are gay. Twenty-three foreign militaries, including those of Britain and Israel, as well as the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, Secret Service, and scores of police and fire departments throughout the United States allow known gays and lesbians to serve. Not a single one of these organizations has reported a decrease in organizational effectiveness. Any discussion of ROTC's potential role at Brown should include consideration of the stakes of embracing organizations that fire gay employees.

Aaron Belkin '84
Santa Barbara, Calif.

The writer is director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at UC Santa Barbara.

Doing good in the world occasionally requires knowing how to skillfully and responsibly use force. So shouldn't Brown be a place where students who are making an extraordinary effort to do some good in this world are supported, if not encouraged, by deans rather than being derided as "baby killers"? Why wouldn't a dean who denigrated a student's affiliation with the army be disciplined the same way a dean (or anybody else) at Brown would be disciplined for verbally assaulting any other well-meaning group or individual?

President Simmons, I have a lot of faith in your leadership. Please don't let Brown become a place that is hostile to individuals who are willing to risk their lives to save ours and to protect the freedoms that we all enjoy.

Bob Poole '86
Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

I was disappointed that your story on ROTC failed to mention one of the program's central incompatibilities with Brown: its systematic exclusion and persecution of openly gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual students. In accordance with the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, ROTC cadets discovered to be gay are discharged from the program and, in many cases, forced to repay their scholarships. The program effectively denies gay and lesbian cadets many of the liberties the rest of us rightly take for granted: the freedom to walk across campus holding a partner's hand, to join the student groups of our choice, and to speak freely and publicly about our life experiences.

Brown's nondiscrimination policy clearly forbids the establishment of such an organization on campus, as it disallows student groups as well as University programs from discriminating against students, faculty, or staff on account of their sexual orientation. Anything less is unworthy of Brown.

Brooks King '02

I'm disappointed that Zachary Block chose to ignore one of the biggest reasons for opposition to ROTC on campus: the military's ban on homosexuals.

I hope that whenever Brown provides information about ROTC to its students, it prints the following truthful statement: "Warning: Students with a homosexual or bisexual orientation are banned from participating in ROTC and will be expelled from the program if they reveal their orientation (e.g., by telling anyone, including parents and close friends, or through a nonverbal act such as holding hands with a member of the same sex), even if they are celibate or have never actually had homosexual sex. Students who currently believe they are heterosexual and who receive ROTC scholarships may be asked to pay back the money and have their military careers cut short if later they come to the conclusion that they are not heterosexual."

Students in ROTC at other universities have been kicked out of ROTC solely because of their sexual orientation and have been asked to pay back their ROTC scholarships ($25,000, in the case of James Holobaugh at MIT), so this warning is appropriate, I believe.

Eric Tsuchida '87
Los Angeles

I was quite happy to see "The Cadet." Perhaps the anti-ROTC legacy of the 1960s is slowly coming to an end. My own experience with anti-ROTC sentiment came one day while I was a junior and was called to the office of the assistant dean of students. His first words to me were that he'd noticed I'd been on the dean's list every semester and that I shouldn't be wasting my time in the military. He warned me that active duty in the navy would ruin my intellect and promised to get me financial aid if I dropped out of ROTC. Shocked, I told him I had made a commitment to my country and was not going to back out of it.

What were the consequences of my decision? About five years after I left active duty, the Bureau of Naval Personnel converted service records to microfiche and sent the paper originals to the corresponding officers as mementos. These records included those from my time in Navy ROTC at Brown. Looking through them, I found a letter from the Rhode Island Selective Service Office stating they were looking for me because I'd been drafted. Once they found out I was an officer on active duty with the navy and therefore fulfilling my military obligation, the members of the board closed my case. Thus Navy ROTC had saved me from the draft, perhaps from going into combat in Vietnam.

Another consequence came because, thanks to ROTC, I eventually worked with state-of-the-art guided-missile and radar systems, so that after I was released from active duty, my intellect had not only not deteriorated but allowed me to earn a Ph.D. from Caltech in three years. My navy electronics experience allowed me to cut two years from the process of designing an experiment that worked.

In other words, I'm glad I never took that dean's advice.

Jerome M. Auerbach '67
Livermore, Calif.

As a Brown Navy ROTC graduate, i read Zachary Block's great article with much interest and many memories. Myko Hull '03 demonstrates genuine honor, courage, and commitment in his pursuit of an army officer's commission. I am confident that his Brown undergraduate background will make him a great addition to the U.S. Army Officer Corps.

Dick Mayo '68
Fairfax Station, Va.

The writer is a U.S. Navy vice admiral.

Staff Writer Zachary Block replies: The U.S. military, whose don't-ask-don't-tell policy toward homosexuality is well known, is not the only organization that officially restricts gay membership. While it is not a branch of the federal government, the Catholic Church, for example, forbids gay sex, yet no one is calling for ridding campus of its Catholic chaplain. As for the case raised by Eric Tsuchida, James Holobaugh was indeed expelled from U.S. Army ROTC in 1990 after he revealed he was gay. Holobaugh, however, was a student at Washington University, not MIT, and the army dropped its effort to get him to repay his scholarship. Like all military personnel, ROTC cadets are not asked about their sexual orientation, but cadets who receive ROTC scholarships sign a contract stipulating that they can be involuntarily called to active duty or forced to pay back scholarship money if they "willfully evade" the terms of the contract. Finally, my article profiled one cadet and reviewed the history of ROTC at Brown; it was not an argument for reinstating the program on campus. That said, any such future debate would no doubt revolve around issues involving the military and homosexuality, as have similar discussions held on other campuses in recent years.

Union Due

Ten years ago, on April 22, 1992, I was one of 253 people arrested during a University Hall takeover to protest Brown's lack of a need-blind admission policy. I'm grateful to President Simmons for committing the University to doing the right thing, finally, on this issue ("Taking Care of the Future," May/June).

Now I'd like to see her do the right thing about the unionization of graduate teaching assistants. Unionization would give teaching assistants the right to bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of their employment without impairing their position as scholars. In fact, if anything, this step can protect their scholarship from encroachment by unreasonable teaching workloads.

I trained as an internist in a program that recognized a union for interns and residents. I believe that I am a better doctor today because that program allowed for adequate learning time and support for patient care - neither of which would have been available without a union contract. Our contract enabled us, for example, to protect the right of medical faculty members to supervise intern and resident care when the chief financial officer tried to take over that authority himself.

If President Simmons cares as much about the graduate TAs as I believe she does, she should let them decide how best to represent themselves. Brown ran an aggressive antiunion campaign. The graduate TAs voted on unionization, but the votes haven't been counted because of University objections. President Simmons knows - or should know - that if the University were to drop its objections, the votes could be counted the next day. In fact, she can legally recognize any union that has signed up a majority of the workers.

President Simmons should announce that from now on the University will remain neutral on any question of unionization and that workers' organizations will be recognized if they present signed cards from a majority of workers. If she were to do this, Brown would be a better place. I just hope it doesn't take ten years.

Paul Quick '83
San Francisco


Racial Profiling

I remember being profiled at Brown as a freshman one day during the Christmas break while a bunch of us were playing basketball at Marvel Gym ("ID, Please," Elms, May/June).

After being asked who we were and what we were doing, we finally convinced whoever that authority figure was that we belonged there. Tony Fiocca '51 thought that maybe we seemed suspicious because we'd been talking about our teachers rather than professors. Perhaps. Maybe the reason was that we weren't preppies, that we were not graduates of Providence's Hope or Classical high schools, or that we weren't from the New Jersey suburbs. No, we were just a bunch of Italian kids from Mount Pleasant High, probably the first large batch of freshmen to go to Brown from that school.

Is there a moral here? I doubt it.

Edmund Conti '51
Summit, N.J.

How infuriating to learn once again that black students at Brown are playing the race card merely for being asked to produce student identification! And how insane for President Simmons to feed this race-based stupidity by asking us to believe that she is the victim of racial profiling every hour of every day! If institutional racism is as intractable as the good president seems to believe, then one wonders what accounts for her posts at Smith College and Princeton before her selection as the first African American woman to head an Ivy League institution.

Michael Smith '05, David Williams '05, and their Afrocentric abettors at the African Sun never stop to ask if, perchance, the black crime rate might in any way justify scrutiny of young black males. Although barely 13 percent of the population, blacks today account for more than 50 percent of those incarcerated for rape, murder, and armed robbery. Indeed, a third of those who share the age and identity of Smith and Williams are either in prison, on parole, or on probation. Why shouldn't police officers exercise due diligence?

Black Americans like Smith and Williams are enraged with racial profiling when it bruises racial egos, but they applaud and gladly accept racial profiling in the camouflage of affirmative action when it confers unearned preference. Let's hope the duo get their just deserts, and that the officers who stopped them are given the commendation they deserve.

George A. Levesque '69 A.M.
Albany, N.Y.

The writer is University Professor of African American History at SUNY Albany.

Editor Wanted

I take issue with some factual items in the otherwise commendable letter by Harold Fleming Jr. '53 ("Not So Color Blind," Mail Room, May/June). He states that Ralph Cunningham '52 was elected editor of the Brown Daily Herald but served only briefly after "some alumni protested that the BDH had just had a Jewish editor, Alan Levy '52, and they did not want another Ôminority' running the paper."

I was a classmate and (white) friend of Ralph as well as production manager of the BDH. Alan Levy was never editor of the BDH; he was a feature writer and may have had a titled position, but it was not editor. Also, Ralph was never elected editor, not even for a short period. That he did not become editor was of serious concern to several of us working on the BDH at that time. We believed he had not been elected because he was black; in fact, we inserted an unauthorized editorial in the paper to make known our concerns, and some of us resigned in protest from the paper - an action that caused me great unhappiness because I so enjoyed working on the BDH. However, I have never regretted my resignation, even though it had no effect.

I think that with such a serious allegation being made, the BAM should have attempted to verify the facts and certainly should not have highlighted the charge without having done so. Were Ralph still alive (he died tragically many years ago), I'm sure he would have corrected the record himself.

Edward Barz '52
Newburyport, Mass.

Harold Fleming Jr. '53 replies: I regret that my letter may have been factually imprecise, but I stand by my basicÊpointÊthat Ralph Cunningham '52 was forced to resign from the BDH due to pressure from the University and some alumni. I was Ralph's roommate during the 1951Ð52 academic year, as well as the best man at his wedding. Alan Levy '52 was one of Ralph's strongest supporters on the BDH, but Ralph also had friends in Roger Kaufman '50, Arnie Raphaelson '50 and Jimmie Keat '51, all of whom I believeÊheldÊBDH editorial positions during that era and all of whom were Jewish. IÊmay have been mistaken to remember that Alan Levy was a BDH editor, but I'm sure that Ralph was at least considering a run for editor and wasÊinformed by Brown that he could lose his University scholarship if he did. The reasons given were as stated in my original letter and as told to me in confidence by Ralph as he weighed his decision to resign from the BDHM over several sleepless nights in our dorm room in Littlefield Hall. I am not likely to forget this event and its clearly racial overtones.

Editor Norman Boucher adds: Neither Ralph Cunningham nor Alan Levy served as editor of the BDH. During the 1950Ð51 academic year, Cunningham was executive editor while Levy was features editor. The editor was James Keat '51. After he was succeeded by Richard Sherman '52, Keat, Cunningham, Levy, and Barz were among sixteen students working at the BDH to resign when, according to a letter to the editor published at the time, "members of the staff whose qualifications for the Editorship were far superior to Sherman's were passed over because a majority of the board insisted on having a fraternity man as Editor."

Writing Matters

It was with great sadness that I learned R.V. Cassill had succumbed to his lingering illness in March (Obituaries, May/June). Those of us who attended the graduate writing program during the late 1970s were met and embraced by this fiery, thoughtful, and infinitely patient man who embodied all the qualities I believed a professional writer should have. All, that is, except perhaps the ego you would normally find in a person who had a shelf row of successful titles bearing his name. He was a writer first and a teacher second, but if you were his student and you were serious, you found yourself under the wing of a gentle master who guided your path with golden stones and welcomed you as a friend.

Verlin Cassill was the writing program for me; he opened his home, his life, his family, and his profession to all of us. His influence has never stopped, because he never stopped being a friend and mentor. Through the intervening years and letters, and through occasional visits to his Rhode Island home and Cape Cod house, his guidance, his teaching, and his interest in people never ended. He will live on through us, his students, and we will advise our own students as he did: "Write if you must - but write well. It counts." Thanks for everything, Verlin. Let me try it one more time.

Jerry Coker '79 A.M.
Davis, Calif.

Service, Please

As I read about Matt Dunne '92 and VISTA ("Volunteers," March/April), I couldn't help noting how much volunteers can enrich states, cities, and counties.

In Boulder County, Colorado, where I live, two programs have long been in place to tap an often-unused segment of the population: senior citizens. The motivation for volunteering is simple enough. Seniors are paid five dollars an hour, and although the number of hours that someone can work for pay is limited, the programs help us senior citizens pay our taxes - an effective hook.

I have worked in the schools for four years and have had more fun than you can imagine! I made it clear from the get-go that as a former teacher, I would volunteer only if I could teach - no copying or other scut work that wouldn't use my skills. Although I can be paid only for sixty hours a year, I can spend an unlimited number of unpaid hours in the schools. If I am sick, I can stay home. If I take a trip to the Amazon - as I did with the Brown Travelers a few years ago - I am in no trouble at work.

I am proud that our graduates have chosen to serve the country and all of us in this way, and I am proud that the BAM has told us about it.

Virginia Dolbeare Anderson '50
Rollinsville, Colo.

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July / August 2002