Should She Re-Pay the Tuition to the ROTC?

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 the face.  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?

Why or why not?













Conceptualization Steps for a Reasoned Judgment

Relevant Facts Moral Agents Power Relationships Between Agents Harms that Might Come

Basic Assumption:  One should do one's job as well as possible without causing unjustified harms.

Reinhold Schlieper
June 3, 2003