History's Lessons


LAST Sunday's Undergraduate Council resolution calling for the reinstatement of ROTC is a textbook example of student government at its most thoughtless and irresponsible.

The council's resolution is completely meaningless. The question of whether ROTC can exist as an on-campus extra-curricular activity was settled 20 years ago. On May 29, 1968, a special faculty committee appointed by the Harvard Corporation concluded that "The armed services interpret the relevant public law as forbidding them to accept arrangements under which ROTC would become altogether extracurricular, with no contractual intermediation by the University beyond that afforded ordinary extracurricular activities."

It is conceivable--barely--that the Faculty and the Corporation could vote to reverse this 20-year-old stance. But the reasons why ROTC was banned 20 years ago apply equally well today.

It is the military's function to wage war and to defend the country. It is the University's role to promote academic freedom and the open exchange of information. These two goals are incompatible, in time of war or peace.

Harvard should not rely on the armed forces to subsidize its scholarship program, forcing students into four years of military service. Harvard should not lend its name and prestige to an organization devoted to the use of force. Harvard should not sacrifice its academic independence to an arm of the United States goverment.

No one can prevent students who want to join a military scholarship program from doing so. But there is no reason why such a program has to be affiliated with any educational institution. Any branch of the armed forces can afford to buy a building in Cambridge, teach courses in military theory and grant stipends to help students pay for a Harvard education. Harvard does not need to be involved at all, and it should not be.

By focusing almost exclusively on the military's discriminatory policies the staff position allows the Undergraduate Council to set the terms of this debate. The concerns of gays, lesbians and bisexuals are certainly justified, but they ignore the core issue--the fundamentally differing roles of Harvard and the military. Discrimination is simply one example of this disparity.

Anyone on the council who bothered to look could have seen, as clear as day, why ROTC cannot return as an extracurricular activity. Anyone who looked a little further could have seen sound reasons why the current University policy exists.

But no one did. Instead, the council decided to forge ahead blindly, ignoring the history of ROTC on campus. There are good reasons why ROTC is not here and never should be here. The council should keep them in mind when it returns to the issue on Sunday.