Not Even Close


First we were confused. Now we are angry. Two years ago, the Faculty Council rightly decided to break all ties with ROTC if the organization did not end its ban on gays, lesbians and bisexuals. ROTC hasn't ended that ban, and the council has not fulfilled its promise.

Instead, Harvard has delayed and wavered, making a colossal mess of what was a forthright decision. First, Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, from whom we expected much more, set up a student-faculty committee to study the issue just a few months before the ultimatum was to take effect. To make matters worse, that committee requested a five-month extention on its own deadline, until just last week.

And now we find that the committee's report, which wasn't even made available to students until Tuesday, ends with a simple first step that should have been taken years ago.

According to the committee report, the University should not stop accepting ROTC's discriminatory funds, but should break financial ties with the ROTC program at MIT, where Harvard's cadets are enrolled. What grit! What moral rectitude!

We have explained in detail in the past why Harvard should reject ROTC money. The bottom line is that such money is unabashedly intended for non-gays only, The U.S. military doesn't even hide its blatant discrimination, and Harvard should have no part in it.

We have even played the game the way ROTC proponents want when they argue that without ROTC funds, some students couldn't afford to attend Harvard. The answer to this dilemma is a better financail aid system that gives more help to the middle class. Regardless of who would benefit, Harvard should not even consider accepting money so clearly intended to exclude a group of Americans. Harvard would never consider accepting ROTC funds if they discriminated against women of any other minority group. That it does so where gays, lesbians and bisexuals are concerned provides a horrifying commentary on the University's priorities.

Even if we set aside the fact that the committee has abandoned principle with this recommendation, we still can find reason to question its effectiveness.

Does the committee really expect MIT to incur a $32,000 cost to help Harvard spinelessly attempt to uphold a principle which MIT doesn't even accept? If so, the committee members are decidedly stupid. Or does the committee expect MIT to reject the College's ROTC students, thereby effectively ending the ROTC program at Harvard? If so, the committee members are cynical and devious.

More plausibly, the committee expects MIT to change the Harvard's ROTC cadets a fee to participate in their program. This expense will either come out of cadets' pockets or, more likely, from ROTC itself. And that makes sense even without a moral argument--ROTC, not Harvard, should carry any financial burden resulting from the program.

More broadly, Harvard's jellyfish-like behavior in the ROTC matter makes us uneasy about how the Rudenstine-Green-Knowles trifecta plans to deal with problems at the University. The administration's ham-handed attempts to look contemplative over what should have been a clear moral decision have only revealed the extent to which Harvard has not changed even with all its new administrative faces.

The University is still willing to tread an easy path--on minority and women faculty hiring on the union negotiations, on legacy and athlete admissions tips--when the opposite course is so clearly right.

The committee tried to please everyone by embracing a loophole that seems to wash Harvard's hands of ROTC while still allowing students to participate in the program. But by stepping around an issue instead of addressing what should be a clear moral decision, it ends up looking foolish and acting spineless.

This committee report isn't "thoughtful," as Knowles said, or "very reasonable," as President Neil L. Rudenstine said. It's just wrong.