A Week the Council Will Never Forget

The ROTC Debate

The Undergraduate Council thrust itself into the national spotlight last Sunday when it approved a resolution calling for the return of an on-campus Reserve officers Training Corps program. The council got plenty of attention but also learned that when you're under bright lights, you have to take the heat.

What council members treated earlier this semester as a seemingly uncontroversial student services proposal exploded this week into what may be the largest crisis ever for the seven-year-old student government.

The campus debate also drew the attention of the national media, which made particular note of the 20th anniversary of the student strike of 1969.

Amid calls from some anti-ROTC activists for votes to recall council members who supported the resolution and semi-serious suggestions of another siege of University Hall, the council is gearing up to reconsider its ROTC resolution. The body will vote tomorrow whether to modify it, repeal it or keep it intact.

The last time students became actively involved in the ROTC issue was in 1969 when they did storm University Hall, demanding in part the severing of all ties between ROTC and Harvard.

The Faculty had already voted to withdraw academic credit for ROTC courses, and after the siege of University Hall it passed a resolution forbidding ROTC "special privileges or facilities granted either by contract or informal arrangement." Shortly thereafter, all three divisions of ROTC separately withdrew from the Harvard campus.

The roughly 90 Harvard students currently enrolled in ROTC must travel to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to receive military training.

In 1969, students were fighting ROTC on the issues of the Vietnam War and the propriety of an officially sanctioned military presence at a liberal arts university.

But while some students still said they were concerned with the issue of military influence, this week's ROTC debate was for the most part framed in radically different terms.

A vocal group of activists--some of whom organized the Anti-ROTC Action Committee (ARAC)--is pushing opposition to the council resolution on the grounds of institutional discrimination against gays and lesbians.

They say that endorsing ROTC violates both the council constitution and Harvard policy, which each contain clauses prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The armed force do not allow gays and lesbians to serve in their ranks.

The issues of discrimination and constitutionality were brought out repeatedly at last Sunday's meeting, but, looking back, many council members say that they were voting out of ignorance.

"I was totally unaware of the exact policy," said Eliot House representative S. Layla Voll '90 in an interview Tuesday.

And Chair Kenneth E. Lee '89, who this week withdrew his support for the restoration of ROTC, said that the relevance of the council's constitution was not made clear during the meeting.