ROTC: Making a Comeback

April 10, 1969: In the stillness of an early spring dawn, hundreds of students gather sleepily outside University Hall, watching the building that protesters have occupied for nearly 17 hours. The crowd in the Yard swells as the sun begins to rise, and 500 students begin to chant. "Stop expansionism. ROTC must go."

It is 5:05 a.m. Inside the building about 200 students prepare for a police challenge. Anxious leaders recite instructions in passive resistance and distribute phone numbers of friendly lawyers, along with wet pieces of linen for protection against tear gas.

"Cops are coming!" somebody yells, 400 policement, clad in storm helmets and gas masks, armed with rifles and riot sticks, charge University Hall in systematic thrusts. State police drag bloodied protesters out of the building, where they will arrest nearly 300. "If you don't stay there I'll break your fuckin head," a cop shouts. Still the students chant. "Smash ROTC."

In the wake of the violent bust, the University gives in to many of the student demands that prompted the building takeover. At the start of the fall 1969 term, the Faculty votes by a two-to-one margin to deny academic credit for Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC courses, to end Corporation appointments of ROTC instructors, and to deny ROTC use of Harvard buildings. A few weeks later, the Department of Defense ends Harvard's ROTC program, the oldest in the country.

More than a decade after it was forced off campus, the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) is staging a comeback. Through cross-registration at MIT. 41 Harvard students are enrolled in the Army ROTC--a 65 per cent jump from last year--and 29 are in the Air Force program. And this week, on the 12th anniversary of the occupation of University Hall, some ROTC officials are confidently predicting that Harvard will have its own detachment again within six years.

Although this year's enrollment figures are particularly dramatic, ROTC has been growing steadily since the Faculty voted five years ago to allow cross-registration in the MIT program. Col. John S. Kark, professor of military science at MIT, says the number of Harvard students in ROTC is now enough to meet Army "viability standards" for a separate detachment. "We have more Harvard students [in the Army program] now than we did in the last several years of the Harvard detachment," he adds.

ROTC's gains are even more dramatic nationwide. From a low of 33.220 in 1974 in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Army ROTC enrollment rose last fall to 69,663. For the spring semester, officials put the number at more than 71,000.

The U.S. Army is eager to reinstate ROTC at Harvard, an Army spokesman in Washington, who asked to remain unidentified, said this week.

"Although we would like to have a working relationship with such a prestigious school," he said, the Army has not approached Harvard and is not likely to. "Since we were invited out, we'd rather wait to be invited back in," he said.

The Faculty legislation of 1969 defined ROTC as "an extra-curricular activity," but denied it the use of any University facilities. Currently, under a procedure established by a Faculty vote in 1976. Harvard students in ROTC cross-register at MIT for courses the University does not recognize for credit or on transcripts.

The cross-registration system is "inconvenient," because it forces students to commute between schools. Kark says, adding that the prohibitory Faculty legislation of 1969 "has fallen behind political trends." The Faculty vote is now "political history," the product of a "temporary rejection of the military" which followed the Vietnam War, he says.

"The premise that Harvard can avoid being involved in the military is simply not true, though some people would like to say that it is." Kark adds. "There is a fundamental disdain among a large number of academics for the military. But the military will not go away," he says.

In December, Kark challenged the 1969 Faculty legislation by requesting the use of a room on campus to tutor students who could not reach their MIT classes. But Harvard officials rejected what would have been the first formal military presence at the University since 1969.

John R. Marquand, secretary to the Faculty Council, says the 1969 ruling necessitated the refusal in December. "Legislation was scrutinized to see what the Faculty's response was to ROTC in the past," and no member of the council wanted to challenge the earlier decisions, Marquand adds.

Although Kark does not agree with the council's decision, he says he accepts it--"I understand their view. They think today we'd get a room, tomorrow a building, and the next day a parade."