Should She Re-Pay the Tuition to
Sara Isaacson, a ROTC student at UNC-Chapel Hill,
is suddenly in massive debt to the military
- for an action that she saw as the only way to stay true to the army's
values of honor and integrity. Earlier this semester, she entered her
commander's office and handed him a memo saying that she had recently
come out as a lesbian. She added that serving in the military was
something that she had wanted to do for many years, but that she felt
that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was asking her to lie and to
violate one of the army's core principles. The commander told her that
because of her memo, she would be dropped from ROTC and be asked to pay
back the $80,000 that she had received in scholarship money over the
past seven semesters as an out-of-state student at UNC.
This story is appalling on so many levels but also illustrates one of
the fundamental contradictions of DADT [don't ask--don't tell] in a very
visceral way. Isaacson, because of her devotion to the army's
teachings, felt that she could not in good conscience lie about who she
was. And for that, she was rejected from an organization whose values
she had actively embraced and which had been her dream career since the
age of 13.
"Your platoon in your unit is supposed to be your family, it's supposed
to be your support system," Isaacson explained. "If you're putting up
walls with your soldiers because you're living in fear every single day
that a pronoun's going to slip or that someone is going to somehow find
out that you're gay or lesbian or bisexual. If you can't get close to
your soldiers who you need to be able to trust with your life, that's
really harmful to unit cohesion and to mission readiness because you
need to be able to trust everyone implicitly."
The demand that Isaacson must repay the tuition is a horrific slap in
More than 13,500
service members have been discharged under the law since 1994
after being accused of violating the "don't tell" portion of the policy.
But attempts to recoup tuition costs are relatively rare; the army
usually covers the tution even after students have been discharged.
Apparently, Isaacson's commander recommended that she repay the money by
suggesting that because the taxpayers had paid for Isaacson's tution,
they needed to "get what they paid for."
But the taxpayers did get what they paid for--a strong, intelligent
young woman who has received a good education and internalized the
values of the military, to the point where she jeopardized her dreams to
adhere to them. To discharge Isaacson is to follow a backwards and
immoral policy, but to actively punish her for her honorable actions by
forcing her to pay an enormous sum of money is unconscionable.
What is a just and equitable
solution to this problem? Is the reporter correct in seeing repayment as
"unconscionable"? How would you "repair" the morality of this case?
or why not?