Harvard's ROTC Serves Two Masters

(Second in a two-part series)

The Reserve Officers Training Corps is not very visible at Harvard. There were the cheerful letters from Aerospace Studies in the summer before your freshman year, and at registration there was a display with military things on a clean white table cloth, with a tidy-looking officer standing nearby. Later, looking for your Math 21 section in Shannon Hall, you might have wandered along one of the pale green corridors lined with recruiting posters and framed prints of bombers and medals. And trudging up to your room one fall afternoon, you happened to meet the guy across the hall on the way down, incredibly transformed into a uniformed soldier, and you were both a little embarrassed by the formality of your hello's.

But as America's land war in Asia enters its fourth year, what was once merely strange now becomes somehow menacing. To many anti-war students, the quiet presence of ROTC on the Harvard campus appears as a recent and insidious intrusion of the warmakers, an ill-conceived alliance between the University and the war in Vietnam. Thus even when the students in Mallinckrodt began to compose a list of demands one night last October, someone suggested that they include the abolition of ROTC at Harvard. But although the suggestion seemed in keeping with the theme of the sit-in, it was quickly voted down: there was a general feeling that ROTC wasn't going to be disposed of so easily, and anyway, no one knew much about it.

ROTC does in fact represent an alliance between the University and the warmakers, but the alliance is not a new one. Harvard has had some kind of undergraduate military instruction since the early nineteenth century, and its three ROTC units are today among the oldest in the nation. These units were conceived in the atmosphere of internationalism which for many years was Harvard's political character in an isolationist America. The original Army unit was formed largely in response to widespread student demand, when, in late 1915, 1200 men of Harvard enlisted in a new drill unit within a few days of its creation. When ROTC programs were created by the Navy 1926) and the Air Force (1947), the University applied at once for the new units, and today Harvard is one of the few universities in the country to host all three ROTC units.

The largest of Harvard's three units is the Naval ROTC, with a current enrollment of 133 students. Four-year NROTC students must take three-and-one-half full courses from the Department of Naval Science to earn a commission with the Navy or the Marine Corps. Since all of these courses carry full credit, it is possible to earn more than twenty per cent of the credits required for a Harvard degree in NROTC--this is the highest percentage of any ROTC unit in the Boston area. Harvard's NROTC students, however, only count about one half of these courses toward graduation, and carry the remainder as fifth courses.

Seventy-seven of the Naval students are in the Regular NROTC program. These students were chosen for the program in their senior year of high school, and are expected, according to the Navy brochure, to be "reasonably disposed to making the Navy a career." While at Harvard, they receive Government scholarships covering all tuition, books, and room and board. The total value of these scholarships is presently around $230,000, and in an average year, about five borderline students are accepted to Harvard as a result of receiving this stipend. The non-Regular, or Contract NROTC students do not receive scholarships, but they do get the standard monthly allowance of $50 in their last two years, and also have the option of electing a two-year course, with a summer training curise, in preference to the full four-year course.

The Army unit at Harvard also offers both the two-year and four-year programs, and at present has slightly over one hundred cadets enrolled. The four Army courses (all half-courses running throughout the year) are probably the least demanding of the ROTC offerings at Harvard, and about 90 per cent of them are carried as fifth courses. The unit uses the modified ROTC curriculum, which has reduced the proportion of purely military subjects by about one-third. Army ROTC cadets, however, can still earn thirteen per cent of the credits for their degrees in the Army courses, as compared to a national average of 10.5 per cent. Only seven Army cadets receive ROTC scholarships.

The Air Force unit offers only the two-year course, and has a current enrollment of thirty cadets. The program requires its students to take four half-courses in Aerospace Studies, which, like all ROTC courses, are taught by military personnel. Enroll- ment in the Air Force program is fairly competitive: this year there were seventy-five applications for about twenty places, and last year the proportion accepted was even lower.

On the whole, ROTC students get about the same grades as their non-ROTC classmates: about 50 per cent of the Navy students, for example, are in Group III or higher. The ROTC courses can, of course, raise these students' academic standings. But non-ROTC students may also take these courses. The fact that ROTC courses are both undemanding and tuition-free makes them useful for making up a failed course, and most of some 75 non-ROTC students enrolled in such courses (mainly in Nav. Sci. 32, "Marine Navigation") have done so for that reason, according to F.X. Brady, professor of Naval Science.


The actual relationship between Harvard and each ROTC unit is governed by a contract signed by the University and the service concerned. The Navy and Air Force contracts (signed in 1926 and 1952 respectively) have been largely superceded by subsequent informal agreements. But the Army contract was signed only in 1966, and with slight variations, it can be regarded as the prototype for all three of Harvard's units.

Under the 1966 contract, the Army agreed to staff and equip a Department of Military Science at Harvard, which would provide the required Army ROTC courses at no direct expense to the University or its students.

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