A ROTC Solution

DO WE REALLY WANT to resolve the Reserve Officer's Training Coprs (ROTC) issue, or might it be more fun to just all dig our heels in and be morally superior at each other?

The Undergraduate Council's ad hoc Committee on the issue immediately divided itself into wholly independent pro-and anti-ROTC camps to avoid the hassle of actually considering different opinions. So much for the leadership produced by great intellectual institutions.

The mortal enemies in this debate don't even widely disagree after all the emotions are removed. The anti-ROTC types are not out to oppose militarism, and they support military scholarships for higher education. The pro-ROTC types are not out to oppose homosexuality, and they support the movement to change the Department of Defense policy prohibiting homosexuals.

So both sides agree on the ends of changing the policy, that of paying for people's educations and giving Harvard students the option to enter the military. Only the means to those ends are in dispute; yet because the issue involves weighing civil rights against educational opportunity, the debate is completely polarized, and completely paralyzed.

There is, of course, another way. No one is unhappy with the ROTC students' individual participation in the program, only with the DOD bureaucracy's unwillingness to allow homosexual students in the program. Harvard is a powerful institution, with many more substantial ties to the military than the ROTC program. If Harvard really wants to get the DOD policy changed, all it has to do is put its money where its mouth is, that is, behind the position on which we all agree--that the military's policy towards homosexuals must be changed. We can get the policy changed, and we can leave our scholarship students alone too.

Besides the educational services Harvard provides for individuals within the military and the government, Harvard also receives $8.2 million annually from the DOD to conduct military research. If Harvard wants to influence the DOD bureaucracy, it is in a very good position to do so. Instead of jeopardizing a relatively insignificant officer training program (90 percent of whose participants say they would join ROTC at another school if it were shut down), Harvard could declare that it will stop participating in some or all of these research programs if the military does not change its policy by a certain date.

THE ADVANTAGES of such an approach are substantial:

1. This approach might actually get the military's policy changed and resolve the issue of homosexuals in the military for good. Change happens when people who care about an issue take strong action.

The defense infrastructure is preparing for dramatic funding cutbacks due to the end of the Cold War, but research expenditures are still a top priority. The military has contracts with Harvard because we have top researchers who have developed and conducted these projects in the past, and thus would be very difficult to replace. It would certainly not be hypocritical to refuse ROTC money while accepting research money, since the research money is allocated without discrimination. But who can blame the military for not taking Harvard seriously if all we are willing to risk for our great moral stand is a few students' financial comfort?

2. Such a strong statement of principle from Harvard would attract much press attention and stir debate on a national level. In addition to calling attention to the issue of homosexuals' civil rights, it would help win back some of the prestige that was eroded during the recent investigations into the University's admissions and research billing practices.

3. We could end some of the political division on campus. The ROTC dilemma is between Harvard policy and Defense Department policy, and that's where it should stay. This approach would allow the Harvard community to engage in a constructive dialogue about the effects of suspending particular research programs and how much time to allow for the military to get its act together and/or for other colleges to join us in our action. We could even agree to keep the ROTC program and set aside some of the financial aid money saved by the ROTC scholarships to give scholarships to homosexuals from similar economic circumstances, thus providing equal and enhanced opportunity to attend Harvard for students while still protesting the Defense Department policy by not doing their research.

4. We could prevent a destructive internal conflict that could tear our community apart in these crucial first months of President Rudenstine's administration. Perhaps even before we consider the ROTC issue, we should consider the consequences of how we consider that issue itself.

Our new president is trying to build an administration that can take into account everyone's concerns. As the debate is framed now, that cannot be done; Rudenstine must either uphold University policy and cause students financial hardship or violate University policy and endorse a denial of students' civil rights. The Department of Defense forced this dilemma upon us; it would be wise for the new administration to spare itself and the community, and pass the dilemma right back.

THIS ARGUMENT MAY BE said to ignore certain institutional constraints. That is an easy criticism to make, and quite possibly an informative one. It is not, however, a legitimate dismissal of the proposal at hand. This argument ignores those supposed constraints not to induce its readers to investigate their substance. If there are institutional impediments, they should not be exempt from consideration, but should be weighed against the potential pragmatic and moral benefits of the approach they conflict with.

And even if this approach should prove unfeasible, there may be a solution to make everybody happier than either the status quo or the FAS resolution to kick ROTC out of Harvard. When we all agree on a goal, we ought to at least try to overcome unproductive political polarity and work together to achieve it.

Gian G. Neffinger '92-'93 is a member of the Udergraduate Council's Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC.