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Harvard vs. ROTC By: David Montgomery
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, January 07, 2003


The United States today is on the brink of another war in the Middle East, and the battle against terrorism is raging on. Pride in our country’s military is the highest it has been in years. We are starting to see those who serve our country get the respect they have earned. Even among the nation’s young people, those notorious "slackers" of the MTV generation, patriotism is on the rise.

Unfortunately, the attitudes of many of those charged with educating that future generation remain mired in a radical past. It has been 34 years now, over a third of a century, since Harvard University banned the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) from its campus. It has been nearly eight years since Harvard, upon the demands of its faculty, withdrew all financial support from the group.

Harvard students are still allowed to join the ROTC at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but they cannot meet or recruit on their own campus. (In that respect, at least, they are more fortunate than Yale ROTC students, who must drive 75 miles to the University of Connecticut in order to drill.) In recent years Harvard has even refused to pay the bill for students benefiting from M.I.T.’s good will. It is only through the generous donations of a few loyal alumni who foot the $150,000 per year tab that Harvard students can participate in M.I.T.’s program.

Of course, the university is not always so discriminating when it comes to sources of revenue. The bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia has given millions of dollars to Harvard for endowed fellowships. The university has no problem taking that money, even though it comes from the same source that helped destroy the World Trade Center and kill thousands of Americans. Money for student cadets, however – that is where Harvard draws the line.

The proud tradition of ROTC began in 1916 when it was created to ensure that college-educated men would be available for military service. In exchange for their participation, students are granted scholarships to help defray the cost of attending university, providing they commit to serve in the armed forces after graduation. At Harvard, as was the case at most schools, the ROTC was regarded with pride as a beneficial public service. At least, it was until the late 1960s.

As with so much of liberal America’s disdain for traditional institutions, Harvard’s contempt for the U.S. military’s training program dates back to the Vietnam War. In 1969, radical student protesters took over University Hall and demanded the ouster of the ROTC. The college faculty responded with enthusiasm, voting to strip the program of its academic credentials and then to ban it altogether. Thus Harvard, along with other elite schools like Yale University, expelled the organization from its grounds, siding with the peaceniks instead of those brave young men and women willing to defend their country.

The effect on the morale of Harvard cadets and the feelings of students in general is significant. When a group cannot meet on campus, cannot recruit new members, cannot even pose for yearbook pictures in their uniforms, this sends a message, a message of disdain and dislike. Such is the legacy of Harvard, as it is with so many universities: opposition to the military, contempt for its traditions, and mockery of those who serve in it.

This controversial policy on the part of Harvard has drawn its share of criticism over the years, but the faculty and administration have largely remained unyielding. Even in the wake of the September 11 attacks, when most of the country has experienced a renewed feeling of patriotism and support for our armed forces, the hallowed halls of Harvard have remained unsupportive to students preparing for a career in military service. This, despite the fact that interest in ROTC among college students is higher than it has been in quite some time.

Such an unpatriotic position from a notoriously liberal university is perhaps not unexpected. (Stanford University, Brown University, and Dartmouth College continue to ban ROTC as well.) However, on closer examination it is rather puzzling. The alternative to commissioning officers trained through a program like ROTC would be to create a professional class of military leaders; a change, one doubts, that would receive much support from the Crimson cognoscenti. It would seem that officers being educated at civilian universities, and especially liberal colleges like Harvard, would be their preference. Of course, this would not be the first time that leftist academics staked out an absurd policy that defies common sense.

Among Harvard alumni to challenge Harvard’s position are former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, noted liberal historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Staples founder Leo Kahn. Perhaps the most visible opponent to the school’s policy is another former student, David Clayman, who for the past 14 years has crusaded for the ROTC’s return. As the founder of Advocates for Harvard ROTC, Clayman has collected thousands of signatures, emails, and faxes supporting his goal. To date, however, Harvard has turned a blind eye.

Of course, the university has no problems with such diverse groups as the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered Supporters Alliance, the Students Against Government Executions (SAGE), or even the Palestine Solidarity Committee. ROTC, however, is unacceptable. Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn has said that "we recognize the value that the cadets bring to society and we are proud of their public service." But not proud enough, apparently, to allow them onto campus in any official capacity. In recent years, the faculty has even tried to have the ROTC commissioning ceremony thrown off campus.

Harvard President (and former Clinton Secretary of the Treasury) Lawrence Summers has professed public support for the ROTC, but in private has been ambivalent. He has said that it is important to treat those who serve with respect and that he is proud of Harvard students who participate in the program. Commendable though these remarks are, he has still done nothing to speed ROTC’s return to the campus, and has waffled even on the question of openly funding them.

The alleged sticking point is the United States military’s discrimination against homosexuals in the armed forces. This first surfaced as an issue in 1989, when Harvard cadet David Carney was expelled from ROTC when it became known that he was a homosexual. The final straw was the institution of the Clinton Administration’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy in 1993, which led directly to the withdrawal of Harvard’s financial support for the program. Since then, the school’s Gay and Lesbian Caucus have been among the most vocal opponents to the cadets’ return.

It should be noted that the ROTC, of course, has no control over the military’s acceptance or rejection of gays and lesbians, nor does the Pentagon have final say either. It is the decision of Congress to maintain the current policy. Rather than direct its efforts at the legislature, however, Harvard has instead chosen to punish the young cadets who would proudly serve as well as achieve an Ivy League education.

This stance is outrageous, says David Clayman, particularly given the state of the world today and our nation’s place in it. "In view of the great uncertainty which now faces our country – where a man in a rowboat can disable a fighting ship of our Navy, where we fight an enemy that has no uniform – I believe that the pursuit of a futile gesture is too high a price to pay for the use of ROTC as a pawn."

One potential remedy that should be considered is a power given to the Secretary of Defense by Congress under the Solomon Amendment. This 1996 law gives the Department of Defense the power to withdraw federal funding from any university that prohibits or prevents ROTC or military recruitment on campus, which Harvard clearly does. Such a loss would run to the millions of dollars. Perhaps this would sway the minds of the liberal academics.

Despite the lack of success so far, however, Clayman remains optimistic. "Our organization of 1300 members is composed of many Harvard alumni, in addition to prestigious members of the faculty. Although many have expressed opinions of opposition to discrimination, all feel that defense of our country is a primary objective." Furthermore, Clayman has faith that President Summers will act on his professed support of the ROTC. "I’m sure that his leadership will result in total approval from the university of our military and the ROTC in particular. Patriotism is still alive at Harvard."

Clayman’s mission is a noble one and we trust his faith is not misplaced. The proof, however, will come with the actions, not the words, of the university’s president and faculty. The time has come for them to either accept the military’s presence on campus, or show their true colors and face the consequences of it. If Clayman is right, though, and patriotism can grow even in the fallow grounds of Harvard, perhaps there is still reason to hope.




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