About 25 students met Wednesday night at the Kennedy School of Government to air some familiar arguments about what role the Reserve Officers Training Corps should play on campus.
Only days after the Undergraduate Council voted to repeal an earlier resolution calling for ROTC to be reinstated on campus, the Harvard Political Union forum brought together student leaders on both sides of the ROTC issue for what was billed as an informal and friendly discussion.
Much of the 90-minute debate was spent discussing whether institutions of higher education should be involved with military programs. In an opening statement, Felicia A. Kornbluh '88-'89, founder of the Subterranean Review and a member of the Anti-ROTC Action Committee (ARAC), said that because "the military is made to fight wars, and not necessarily wars of defense," it does not belong on university campuses.
"The military is a bureaucratic, anti-humanitarian institution," Kornbluh said.
But Kurt P. Wheeler '89, a member of the Marine ROTC program, challenged the view that the military was antithetical to Harvard's mission of producing liberally educated people.
Wheeler argued that "ROTC only wants to be granted the same access rights to the campus as other groups," and added that Harvard gladly accepts money for military research projects.
Kornbluh and other ARAC supporters said that many current U.S. miltary policies are so contrary to University principles of free speech and self-determination that ROTC could never be allowed back to Harvard.
"The decision to kick ROTC off campus should be seen as a political decision by students and by Harvard to reject that kind of [imperialst] mindset," said Jerome Hodos '89.
However, Yolanda R. Lewis '91, one of several other ROTC members present at the forum, responded that civilian leaders, not military ones, are responsible for deciding American foreign policy.
"We carry out the wishes of the American government, and thus the American people," Wheeler said.
Both sides discussed the military's traditional discrimination against gays and lesbians, and both agreed that they should work to eliminate homophobia in military units.
But while Kornbluh and other ARAC members said that such discrimination was an institutional part of the military establishment, Wheeler said he and other ROTC students could work to change that attitude from within the system.
While Sunday's council meeting on ROTC was interrupted by vocal outbursts from activists, Wednesday's forum was marked more by calm discussion than hostile bickering.
"We're going to have a little less pressure than a [council] affair tonight," said David J. Socolow '91, who organized the event, before the discussion began.
The Harvard Political Union, in its second year, holds between four and six student forums each year. Its purpose is to give students a chance to voice their opinions in an open, informal setting.