A heated debate erupted at the ASPSU student senate meeting last Wednesday, postponing a vote on a controversial resolution proposal which requests that the Portland State administration remove all U.S. military presence from campus.
Resolution 2005-005-SF, co-sponsored by Associated Students of Portland State University Senators Lew Church and Kento Azegami, cited opposition to the Iraq War and discrimination in the military as reasons for the requested ban saying that, “the Iraq War is an imperial occupation of another country,” and that the military, “practices discriminatory hiring practices in violation of PSU, City of Portland and Multnomah County code” with its ‘Don’t ask/Don’t tell’ policy concerning gay men and women.
The senate meeting and resolution received wide attention, with local news affiliate KOIN 6 on hand to film the proceedings after a PSU student called conservative talk-show host Lars Larson. Larson said that he read the resolution, which the student had faxed to his office, on air. “I told alumni they might want to think twice before sending their next check to PSU,” he said.
Those opposing the resolution said it was discriminatory towards military personnel who attend PSU. Junior Richard Helzer, a member of the PSU Guard Officer Leadership Development program, said that he and nine other students would lose their full state tuition assistance if the program were made to cease.
“This would affect me as an American. We should be able to support the military as PSU students,” he said.
Another point of contention was the resolution’s frequent mention of the ROTC, which has not had a PSU presence for over two years. According to Col. William Stewart, Professor of Military Science who runs GOLD, recruitment is not a goal of the program, which has 100 and 200 level classes open to all PSU students, though higher-level classes are closed to members of the Guard. “[At PSU] if you want to hear about the military, you’re welcome to. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to,” he said.
In order to serve with the Guard and enroll for the higher-level classes, a gay person could not be open about their sexuality as the Oregon Guard complies fully with federal ‘Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell’ policies, according to Oregon National Guard Communications Director, Captain Brabish. “Those behaviors are seen as not compatible with military service,” he said.
Sen. Church said that the absence of the ROTC at PSU does not amount to a lack of recruitment on campus. “By having military classes – that is a form of recruiting,” he said. He called charges that the resolution is discriminatory “ridiculous” and that Guard members could enroll in many other programs across the state. “Portland is a very progressive city and the major city campus should represent that,” he said.
Mentioned briefly at the senate meeting was that the resolution would stand in direct opposition to the 1996 Solomon Act, which authorizes the Department of Defense to pull all federal funds, including Pell Grants, from any four-year university which bans recruitment officers. Although the Third Circuit ruled that the act is unconstitutional after a group of East Coast law schools sued on the basis that it violated their own anti-discrimination practices, and the matter remains for the Supreme Court to decide, no universities have challenged the law. Sen. Church, however, thought the resolution, which he predicts has a good chance of passing the senate and being approved by the administration, would not put PSU in jeopardy of losing funds. “I think there’s an assumption that lawsuits or threats of lawsuits are bad things, but that’s how progressive moves are made,” he said.
The resolution was ultimately moved to a committee for further investigation.