A Blow to Paternalism

Dissenting Opinion

THE FACULTY'S DECISION to permit students to cross-register at MIT for non-credit participation in ROTC was the right one. The real issue here is whether the University should prevent students from doing whatever they choose in their spare time. Following the trend of the last decade toward permitting students greater freedom in their private lives, the Faculty decided that Harvard should not interfere with anyone who finds ROTC valuable.

To argue that Harvard should prohibit enrollment in ROTC on moral grounds leads to the conclusion that it should extend moral judgements to other student activities. If the United States Army is evil then the federal government that controls it is likewise evil. But no one would suggest that Harvard should prevent students from taking summer internships in the federal government. If Harvard is obliged to resist "complicity" in the evil allegedly perpetrated by the American military, shouldn't it also proscribe students from government employment, campaign work for pro-military political candidates, and any number of other supposedly immoral activities? To carry out the full implications of the majority position would require a huge amount of interference in the lives of students.

Allowing non-credit participation in ROTC implies no moral judgement of the military or U.S. foreign policy, but simply respect for individual choice. Harvard has moved a long way from the cavalier moral judgements it used to impose on the activities of its students; the decision to permit participation in ROTC eliminates a glaring example of University paternalism that has existed too long.