Cut the Ties That Bind


LAST week, the Faculty Council voted to issue a formal statment condemning the military's exclusion of gays and lesbians. But formal statements are merely words. When the Council meets again on Wednesday, it should take decisive action to protest homophobic discrimination in the armed forces, and more specifically, in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). The Council should recommend that the Faculty sever completely all direct University ties to ROTC. The Council should not, however, take the extra step of recommending that the University refuse to accept ROTC scholarship money.

Informal ties between Harvard and ROTC persist despite the Faculty's decision 21 years ago to oust the institution from campus. Harvard allows non-Harvard ROTC students to use the University's athletic facilities for training purposes, and Harvard students can participate in special ROTC graduation ceremonies on the Harvard campus. This despite the military's avowed policy of denying entrance to gays and lesbians and despite the University's official policy of not recognizing organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

ADDITIONAL pressure will not merely be symbolic. The movement for reforming the armed services is gaining on numerous college campuses-including MIT, home base for Harvard ROTC cadets--and even within the Pentagon itself. A recent Defense Department report--squelched by Pentagon officials--concluded that there was no defensible reason to continue excluding gays and lesbians. Yet the unjust military policy continues.

Ending direct contact with ROTC will add Harvard's significant voice to the growing pressure on the Bush administration to change this situation--but without overly harming the interests of Harvard ROTC students. What would unduly punish ROTC students is a recommendation, under consideration by the Faculty Council, that Harvard refuse to accept ROTC scholarships. Such a decision might make Harvard unaffordable for many ROTC cadets; it would also extend the University's influence into the realm of students' personal lives. No longer would Harvard be just opposing discrimination; it would be using economic leverage to force students to change their activities. Just as students receive special money from discriminatory Harvard-based scholarships, ROTC cadets should be permitted to use ROTC money.

Harvard has a responsibility to end its direct involvement and support of discriminatory institutions, but that responsibility does not extend to limiting students' right of free association. The Faculty Council should steer a decisive course on Wednesday--end direct contact with ROTC, but continue to accept ROTC funds.