Pusey's Letter

Brass Tracks

IT WAS REASONABLE to expect that the Corporation's decision on ROTC would mark, at least for the moment, the end of the current debate over ROTC at Harvard. The ROTC issue had been discussed and argued over for months, the Faculty had finally decided the matter, and it merely remained for Corporation to give a routine okay.

But a routine okay was not, it now appears, in the works. The Corporation met last Monday, and on Friday, after an unexplained delay of four days, President Pusey released a letter to Dean Ford in which the Corporation's action on ROTC was revealed.

The letter began by expressing the Corporation's approval of the Faculty's apparent interest in academic matters. This odd commendation was not quite so superfluous as it first appeared, because, as the next few sentences made clear, the Corporation had decided to interpret the Faculty's vote on ROTC in the most narrowly academic way possible. "We are hopeful." Pusey wrote, "that agreement can be reached [with the Pentagon] in regard to issues of academic credit and teaching appointments, since we believe the military services will recognize that the Faculty should control its own membership and course offerings." Having said this, Pusey took a new and more unexpected turn. "I should like to say further," he wrote, "that the Corporation notes with satisfaction that a very large majority of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences opposed a motion seeking completely to exclude ROTC programs from this community."

There followed a rhetorical defense of ROTC: "Mindful of the lessons of history and acutely aware of the dangers to a democratic society in the existence of a corps of exclusively professional officers, the Congress established the Reserve Officers Training Corps on a continuing basis when it became apparent that this country was destined to maintain a large military capability for the indefinite future."

Therefore, Harvard would continue with the ROTC program "if a new arrangement can be concluded satisfactorily both to the services and to us which will meet the issues of Faculty control of curricular offerings and academic appointments." And to make this absolutely clear, Pusey declared that the University would continue to encourage students to enter ROTC.

THERE WAS something wrong. Perhaps the Corporation didn't quite understand. It was true that the Faculty had voted against abolishing ROTC outright but no one had taken this to represent a ringing affirmation of the program. What was worse, the Corporation had not even committed itself to the changes which the Faculty had approved. The strongest commitment of Pusey's letter seemed to be contained in his determination that ROTC be retained at Harvard: as for the Faculty's requests for reforms, the Corporation had agreed only to enter into negotiations to try to implement them. The Corporation appears to have selected the Faculty's rejection of Hilary Putnam's motion to abolish ROTC as the limiting factor on all changes in ROTC's status. If the Faculty's changes could not be implemented without precipitating a break with ROTC, then the changes may not be implemented at all, for to do so would in effect violate the Faculty's decision not to abolish ROTC.

It's all a matter of emphasis. The Faculty emphasized anti-ROTC sentiment, but conceded ROTC a place at Harvard; the Corporation has turned the tables by stressing the decision to keep ROTC while minimizing the import of the Faculty reforms.

The effect of the Corporation's decision now appears to be to replace the SFAC resolution (which the Faculty approved) by the CEP motion (which it didn't). The difference between the two motions lies mainly in the fact that the SFAC resolution spelled out specific changes for quick implementation (loss of academic credit for ROTC courses, abolition of ROTC professorships, and an end to free use of university facilities) while the CEP resolution would merely have enabled Faculty committees to negotiate towards a number of considerably less abrupt changes in the program. By emphasizing what it has chosen to regard as the Faculty's support of ROTC at Harvard, the Corporation appears to be setting itself up as the committee which the CEP would have formed within the Faculty: the Corporation is now "enabled" to negotiate changes in the ROTC system here, but may insist only on such changes as the military is willing to accept.

On one point the Corporation appears already to have rejected the Faculty's recommendation--the question of ROTC's free facilities in Shannon Hall. The Faculty voted to stop the unit's use of Harvard's facilities without charge; the Corporation decided that this vote was not in any way binding since the Faculty is not authorized to allocate space in Harvard buildings. While Pusey's letter left this point open, there is little doubt that the ROTC units will continue to use Harvard facilities free of charge.

It is, of course, much too early to pass any final judgment on the Corporation's action on ROTC. What the Defense Department is and isn't willing to accept is still uncertain, and it may eventually be possible for the Corporation to satisfy both the services and the Faculty. But this much is fairly clear: the Faculty by and large opposes ROTC, and the Corporation strongly supports it. The Faculty, and with it the bulk of the Harvard Student body, has implicitly rejected the political doctrines by which ROTC is justified; the Corporation continues to accept them. No amounts of sophistry can conceal the fact that a real conflict exists here.

THE OVERALL effect of the Corporation's action has been depressing for ROTC's moderate opponents. While there is nothing in Pusey's letter that specifically contradicts the decision of the Faculty, it is painfully clear that the two decisions don't look at all the same. In particular, a number of Faculty members are unhappy that the Corporation chose to interpret the Faculty's refusal to abolish ROTC as a firm decision to retain it. The distinction seems clear enough to the people who participated in the ROTC debate at Harvard, but it is hardly a distinction that the Corporation could have been expected to respect. Nevertheless, the effect is distressing to many. "The debates were generally quite hostile to ROTC," said Martin H. Peretz, assistant professor of Social Studies. Ken Glazier, the retiring chairman of SFAC, remarked over the weekend that "the SFAC resolution didn't ask Pusey to go crawling around asking ROTC to stay." And HUC's Steve Kaplan detected "a smoke screen between Massachusetts Hall and the University which is not healthy."

The irony of President Pusey's letter is that it appears to confirm for the moderate students and Faculty what radicals have been saying for months--namely, that the Corporation runs Harvard and the Corporation will not let ROTC go without a fight. Because the radicals usually insisted on tracing the Corporation's support for ROTC directly to the economic interest of each of its members in suppressing liberation movements in the Third World, their analysis had an implausible ring to it, and was easy to ignore. But now that Pusey has broken his silence on ROTC with an explicit political defense of the program and its place at Harvard, it is hard to continue to maintain that ROTC is an entirely academic question.

Pusey's letter raises the traditional argument that ROTC civilianizes the military and thus serves a democratic purpose. It is an argument which originated in the 1920's and 1930's, when the relatively simple level of training required for military duties still permitted something approximating a true citizen army. Since the Second World War, however, the growth of military technology has carried with it a new emphasis on the recruitment of career officers through ROTC. Even more importantly, the same expansion of technology, and the diffusion of military production throughout the American economy, have tended to obliterate the distinctions between civilian and military styles of thought and morality. The civilian may just isn't an issue any more, and people shouldn't allow themselves to be stampeded into endless successions of compromises with the military out of a fear of losing control of the generals.

BUT THE civilian army arguments continues to have a certain attraction, because it suggests a certain kind of patrician concern with the national good. That is the spirit which permeates President Pusey's letter, and which, it may be assumed, must have permeated the Corporation's deliberations. It is the spirit of the 1950's, of a time of low expectations, when every ideal had proven empty and we hoped for no more than to hold on to what we had. It was a time of eternal conflict ("....when it became apparent that this country was destined to maintain a large military capability for the indefinite future. . . "), a time when people learned to take the long view, to put what was wisest and safest for the country ahead of what was rational and humane.

Nowhere is this spirit more deadly than in a university, because the faith that men's lives can be made vastly better is essential here. When a university forfeits its intellectual independence in the service of some perpetual goal of national policy, it forfeits at the same time its role as an incubator of ideas which have not yet arrived, but which alone hold out the promise that the future can be better than the present. We cannot stand aside and question the Cold War if, as an institution, we are busy helping to fight it.

The answer to this is that 'as an institution" Harvard doesn't do anything. You can do whatever you want her, the argument goes, and you can make of your own little atom of Harvard whatever you want it to be.

But Harvard is an institution, and as such it has spokesmen. Last Friday its spokesmen spoke, and reaffirmed on behalf of all of us that Harvard stands committed to what the Congress, mindful of the lessons of history, has determined.

The Corporation's statement indicates a number of things. The first is that if negotiations with the Pentagon don't work out as hoped, the Corporation may have some trouble with Faculty and students who resent the Corporation's power. The second is that, all the pious cant about university neutrality to the contrary, the University does take explicit, public, and collective stands on political matters. The third and most important conclusion that must be drawn from all this is that the body within Harvard which is empowered to make these political stands on behalf of the University community is precisely that body which, in view of its lack of understanding for what a university should strive to be, is least qualified for the task.