THE FACULTY will have an opportunity tomorrow to abolish the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Harvard. They should do so.
Opponents of ROTC's present status here have become divided over the question of how that status should be changed. The supporters of tomorrow's proposal have argued that the university should not allow ROTC to pursue its recruitment and training activities here in any way, and consequently are pressing for abolition of ROTC. Another group, which includes a majority of the members of the HUC, the HRPC, and the SFAC, has sought to end ROTC's academic status at Harvard while permitting the units to remain here in some form, perhaps in the status similar to that of the Institute of Politics.
The second proposal--to limit but not abolish ROTC at Harvard--has the advantage of appearing as a middle-of-the-road alternative to the two "extremes" of abolition and status quo. But this proposal would not solve the basic problems which ROTC's presence here poses and would probably create some serious new problems of its own.
ROTC is at Harvard because the services want to enlist the prestige of Harvard's name in their recruitment efforts. The units here are extremely small--the Army unit during the past several years has repeatedly failed to meet even the minimal quota of commissioned officers by which a unit justifies its existence. Elsewhere a unit which isn't producing officers might be closed down. But not here. Harvard's ROTC units have a more important function than producing officers: they lend legitimacy and prestige to the whole concept of military training on the nation's campuses.
ROTC is based on the notion that the country's universities should serve the needs of the warfare state. As long as American universities continue to accept these institutions on their campuses they legitimize the idea that the universities and the military should work hand-in-glove in fighting the Cold War. And Harvard, as the oldest and most prestigious of American universities, has the strongest impact of all in this regard. The Army, by staying here no matter how few students in its program, appears to have learned this lesson far better than Harvard has.
THERE HAVE BEEN TIMES, such as during the Second World War, when events have justified such a working relationship between the university and the military. And should circumstances arise in the future when such a relationship would again serve the cause of peace, then it can be re-established. But right now, when the over-expansion of the American military machine has become perhaps the greatest threat of all, the time has come to make it clear that Harvard is no longer interested in being used in a one-sided deal with the military establishment. If we are to strike at the ideology of Cold War unity on which ROTC is based, then this should be done in the most forceful way possible--by abolishing military training on campus.
Those who would retain ROTC in some form here eventually fall back on the argument that students have a right to receive military training, and that the majority should not legislate against a minority in this regard. But even if this right is conceded, it certainly does not follow that the university has any obligation to provide such training. There is no reason why the military could not train Harvard students outside of Harvard. The question is not one of forbidding Harvard students to receive military training, but rather of depriving the military of Harvard's institutional framework for conducting this training.
THERE IS NO tenable parallel, as has been suggested, between the rights of students and of the military to form organizations on campus. Student groups are wholly within the control of people at Harvard, and these groups have the freedom to act and to represent themselves as their members see fit. But military organizations here are entirely controlled outside; they are simply not a part of Harvard, and have no right to represent themselves as though they were. If the personnel department of General Motors proposed a plan by which it would form a permanent recruiting organization within Harvard with the right to present itself as part of the University, the proposal would obviously be rejected. And it would be rejected even if a hundred career-minded students could be found to request such an arrangement. The case of the military at Harvard is no different.
There is a further problem which those who would keep ROTC on campus in a severely-reduced status have not faced. The ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964, which is the basis of the present ROTC program, specifically requires that ROTC units be granted full departmental status, that their courses be given "appropriate academic credit." The Pentagon is not empowered to create new types of ROTC programs, and if Harvard were to demand a radical restructuring of the ROTC units here, it would be told to put up with the present system (perhaps with very minor changes) or else to get out of ROTC altogether. If this were to occur--as it probably would--would the supporters of the HUC-SFAC proposals continue to support Harvard students' right to have ROTC on campus, at the price of abandoning their plans for reform? Or would they, as seems more likely, be willing to admit that the "right" to receive military training within the framework of the university is not quite so fundamental as they had once believed?
Finally, those who oppose abolishing ROTC argue that by doing so, Harvard would isolate itself from the centers of power and thus its influence would be diminished. This could only be true if it can be shown that Harvard's acceptance of ROTC has given it any additional influence on questions of military or foreign policy. In reality, arrangements with ROTC have not given this or any other university any special leverage on policy; the Pentagon expects the universities to cooperate from considerations of patriotism, not power.
Abolishing ROTC will not bring the war to an end, or the military establishment to its knees. But the arguments for abolishing ROTC are strong, and the Faculty should act on them. Above all, ending ROTC at Harvard will help to create the critical independent spirit which should be the only ideology of a university.