A Campus in Revolt

The ROTC at Harvard During the 1960s

When the Committee on College Life began considering a proposal to recognize a "Friends of ROTC" club several weeks ago, a small anti-ROTC movement sprang up in opposition. But the committee ruled in favor of the club--whose avowed purposes are to inform students about military affairs, and to organize meetings of Harvard students enrolled in MIT's Reserve Officer Training Corps program. The committee's overwhelming support of the ROTC club stood in pointed contrast to the heated debates over ROTC itself more than a decade ago--debates that led to ROTC's eviction. The following is an account of ROTC's final years on campus.

ROTC became a hot issue on campus in the late 1960s, as anger over the war in Vietnam spilled over into opposition towards the military on campus. The debate over ROTC lasted nearly two years students and faculty proposed various changes in ROTC's status on campus, and eventually the faculty put itself on record as opposing an ROTC presence at Harvard. But student frustration mounted as the Corporation took its time responding. In April 1969, approximately 400 students took over University Hall, ejecting several deans and administrators. They held the building for more than 24 hours, until 200 police, using billy clubs, tear gas, mace and physical force drove them from the hall at the insistance of then President Nathan M. Pusey. The students had agreed to peacefully resist any police action taken, but several were beaten unconscious.

Back then, students considered ROTC a worthy target for militant action. Though Harvard had trained military men since 1819, with the Vietnam War raging, few wanted the stain of the military on Harvard Yard James Q Wilson. Shattuck Professor of Government, served on the committee that drafted the Faculty legislation that eventually kicked ROTC off campus. Wilson recalls the words of one colleague at the time. "He said something to the effect of. As long as there is a war going on in Vietnam, we cannot have ROTC here.

The debate over ROTC began in the spring of 1967. Students protested against the Dow Chemical Co's visits to campus to recruit under graduate's because Dow was a major producer of napalm. Both students and faculty began reassessing the special relationship ROTC enjoyed on campus. Faculty members remember "People had lost confidence in the military because of what they were doing in Vietnam," recalls Everett I. Mendlsohn. Professor of the History of Science. "So people looked again at the comfortable relationships that the military had, the special privileges that it was given."

It took a year before the Faculty--responding to student demands--scheduled a meeting to discuss the issue, but students doubted that a closed Faculty meeting would produce the desired results. A meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. on Dec. 12, 1968, was cancelled when students arrived three hours early to take part in the proceedings at Paine Hall. When students asked why they could not address or attend the session, then-Dean of the Faculty Fred I. Glimp allegedly replied. "Because those are the rules." Students involved in the Paine Hall sit-in were put on Academic Probation and stripped of their scholarship money.

Harvard then had three ROTC units on campus--Air Force, Navy and Army. ROTC had increased its recruitment since the beginning of the Vietnam War, appealing to Harvard students anxious to avoid the draft and enter military service as an officer. Harvard's ROTC corps was comprised primarily of graduate students from the Law School and the School of Education. But a number of third year undergraduates were also involved. Harvard was one of the first universities to have all three units on campus.

In 1966 the University agreed to establish Departments of Military Science, Naval Science and Aerospace Studies. U.S. law required that ROTC senior officers hold the rank of full professors and ROTC courses be included in the Harvard curriculum.

Most faculty members concerned about ROTC worried about the status of their ROTC colleagues. "ROTC courses were full credit courses given by professors that did not have to go through the usual selection channels and that was a major concern for the faculty," Wilson recalls. But without the political turbulence of the era, the qualifications of ROTC professors would never have become an issue. "It was a very emotional time, where people weren't thinking very clearly." Baird Professor of History Richard Pipes remembers. "The whole act of getting rid of ROTC was purely emotional."

Behind the faculty's decisions lay student pressure. For many, there seemed an almost desperate need to inform individuals about the history of ROTC. An article by Crimson editor David I. Bruck detailing the growth of ROTC on Harvard's campus appeared four times in two years. Students felt ROTC had gone beyond being a partiotic symbol of serving your country while going through college: as Bruck noted, ROTC was increasingly designed to recent college students for lifetime military careers. The idea of ROTC being used to fortify a civilian army therefore seemed untenable. Since ROTC's recruiting efforts were similar to those of large corporations like Dow there was no reason for it to have any special ststus on Harvard's campus.

After the Paine Hall sit-in Faculty members began shaping proposals for the Faculty meeting of Feb 4. 1969. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), one of the more radical student groups, demanded adoption of six major points including the expulsion of ROTC from Harvard and that the scholarships of Paine Hall students be returned. Because Faculty rules forbade students from advancing proposals. Pearson Professor of Mathematics and Mathematical Logic Hilary W Putnam presented the SDS proposal to the Faculty.

The Harvard Undergraduate Council (HUC) and the Student-Faculty. Advisory Committee (SFAC) proposed nearly the same revisions of ROTC--that the courses have all academic credit removed, so that ROTC would no longer be a part of Harvard's liberal arts education. Edward T. Wilcox, a Faculty official, agreed to read the HUC proposal. "I really didn't necessarily agree with the students' concerns," Wilcox remembers. "I was more interested in not letting bureaucracy hold up the outlet for student opinion." He adds. "Of course then the main concern was one of academics not students politics because the ROTC courses were much less demanding than the rest of the curriculum."

The Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) advanced what was then considered a more element proposal allowing ROTC courses to reapply through existing Harvard academic departments. Wilson was selected from the CEP to read the proposal, which won committee approval amidst much dissention. Half the group seemed motivated by the students' political concerns, while others did look, at the academic side more carefully," Watson says.

In an unprecedented gesture, the Faculty also included students in the Faculty meeting, which was held in Sanders Theater, and included graduate school faculty as well. The students were invited by special invitation. After five hours of debate, the Faculty approved the SFAC proposal by a majority vote.

But the Faculty's decision still required Corporation approval and the Corporation's only response to the Faculty vote was a letter from the Corporation stating that it agreed with the Faculty but intended to negotiate new contracts with the Pentagon to keep ROTC on campus. In response, students picketed President Pusey's Quincy St. house and adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Col. R.H. Pell, a professor of Military Science at the College, announced that by law ROTC courses had to be given college credit--and thus ROTC couldn't remain, given the faculty's decision. But the Corporation continued negotiating.

Eventually Pusey clarified the Corporation's intentions on ROTC, saying Harvard would "do everything possible to keep ROTC" "What is clear is that the faculty had a clear choice to oust ROTC from campus and it was voted down with a resounding thud," Pusey said. "I think its important that ROTC be kept here. I personally feel it's terribly important for the United States of America that college people go into the military."