The Decent Thing to Do

DEAN SPENCE made the correct decision last week to accede to a Navy demand that Harvard sign an agreement with Navy ROTC. The controversy centered around the lack of a written agreement between Harvard and NROTC concerning the status of the three dozen or so Harvard undergraduates who are part of the MIT NROTC detachment. The "new" agreement is not really new at all; it is merely a recognition of the cross-town arrangement which began in 1976, and an acknowledgement that those ROTC courses recognized as credit-worthy by MIT should be accorded the same treatment by Harvard.

There is nothing in the proposed four-page document that warranted sending a 22-page explanatory memo to the entire Faculty, which Spence took the extraordinary step of doing last week. ROTC's so-called "extracurricular" status, mandated by the 1969 Faculty repudiation of the organization, is not threatened. Nor is anyone proposing that ROTC return to Harvard. Indeed, there is some doubt as to whether one or more of the services could even be induced to return, should Harvard make such an unlikely request. High cost, a large number of ROTC units in the Boston area, and the memory of rejection would all work against any desire by the services to set up units.

Harvard does not lose anything because of this agreement, and Harvard's ROTC officer candidates gain both moral and material satisfaction. There was the distinct possibility that the NROTC cross-town arrangement would have been terminated starting with next year's freshmen if Spence had refused to sign, and the future of the other ROTC arrangement might have been cast into doubt as well. The reconciliation takes out of limbo those high school seniors who have already won NROTC scholarships and wish to attend Harvard. Furthermore, the option to receive credit for those NROTC courses recognized in MIT's catalogue, specifically three of the eight required by NROTC, simply affirms trust in MIT's ability to designate credit-worthy material, a trust routinely extended for all other courses.

This last point illustrates perfectly the arms'-length treatment which Harvard has accorded its ROTC students since 1976. The issue of whether or not Harvard should reinstate ROTC is a large and complex one. We feel that such action is not necessary at this time. But once having allowed the cross-town arrangement to begin in 1976, Harvard should have recognized it simply for what it was and given its cadets and midshipmen recognition for their activity. The new agreement simply takes away some of Harvard's "unwanted stepchild" attitude toward its ROTC students. It was the decent thing to do.