Doug Lynch was the best and the brightest that the ROTC program at Arizona State University had to offer in the early 1980s. For four consecutive semesters ending with the spring of 1984, he won election as the military program's "outstanding cadet" and maintained its highest grade point average.
Lynch's unlikely transformation from politically conservative, gung ho aspiring soldier to practicing liberal pacifist stunned and angered his ROTC superiors. They acccused him of violating his contract and threatened for a time to either put him on active duty or court-martial him.
Lynch is still paying the price for his rebellion. Back then, he felt he had no choice.
"I started wearing different clothes, and I was hanging out with pacifists and other people who didn't fit the mold," recalls Lynch, who now lives in New York City. "I was, God forbid, a registered Democrat. When I started objecting, they'd tell me, `Don't worry. You're going to be a lawyer or a bigwig anyway. Just go along for a while.' I was starting to question the beliefs of the people who ran ROTC, and they didn't like it.
"At some other school, my opinions would have seemed pretty middle-of-the-road, but at a reactionary, ultraconservative place like ASU, I was seen as a real radical."
In 1985, Lynch dropped out of ASU for a year while pursuing conscientious-objector classification with the military. During that time, he worked as a dishwasher to gain in-state tuition status with the university--a much less expensive proposition. The ROTC honchos wouldn't let him repay $10,000 in scholarship money through a stint in the Peace Corps or in a nonfighting position in the reserves. Still, Lynch says, the military seemed to forget about him after a time.
"I didn't hear anything from ROTC about anything for a long time, and so I just put the experience behind me," he says.
After he graduated from ASU in December 1988 with a degree in economics, Lynch took a job with the College Board, which writes and administers pre-college aptitude tests. He also started taking graduate courses at Manhattan's New School for Social Research.
But Lynch learned last year that ROTC hadn't forgotten him.
"I kept calling ASU to ask them when I would officially get my diploma," he says, "and I even paid my old parking tickets to make sure I didn't have any encumbrances. After several weeks, they told me I owed ROTC $10,000, and that I wouldn't be getting my piece of paper until I paid them every last cent."
That put Lynch, now 25, in a precarious position. He says his graduate school won't let him continue taking courses for credit unless he can provide his undergraduate transcripts from ASU.
"I understand ROTC's position, because they did pay for part of my education and they feel I stuck it to them," Lynch says. "Obviously, I wanted to get away without paying them for anything. But my financial quarrel with ROTC is one thing. What I don't understand is why ASU decided to get involved to the point that they won't even say whether I graduated from their school."
Citing "privacy concerns," no one from ASU would comment specifically on Doug Lynch's case. But one ASU professor of military science who would only comment if promised anonymity says he recalls Lynch vividly.
"He was an extremely bright, confused kid," the prof says. "It caused quite a stir when he turned into a peacenik because he was the best we had. He had a great future. We don't take too kindly to people walking out on us because they've seen the light or whatever."
Lynch compares his case to that of a ROTC cadet at the University of Washington who was ordered to repay scholarship monies after he admitted his homosexuality. In that instance, according to published reports, the university sided with the student, not requiring repayment nor preventing him from continuing his studies.
Lynch has written a letter to newly installed ASU president Lattie Coor, asking the university to reconsider and release his transcripts. He's not hopeful Coor will be receptive to his plea.
"I'm 25, I'm living in New York City on a $17,500-a-year job, and I've got no college degree," Lynch says, still able to chuckle ironically at his plight. "What am I going to do with my life?"