Indecision On ROTC

Issue Unresolved

The ROTC issue is far from resolved, despite the Faculty of Arts and Sciences' vote last Tuesday to endorse the conclusions of the 1992 University Committee on the Status of ROTC.

In fact, interpretations of the vote's meaning differ, but most agree on one point: the decision on the report's recommendations rests where it always has, with President Neil L. Rudenstine and Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles.

"The vote, in a way, doesn't change anything," said Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba '53, who chaired the ROTC committee. "I think it does have symbolic significance...It indicates the Faculty support for the position in our report."

And that support will stand as a message to those who must enact the report's recommendations, Knowles said. The report recommends ending Harvard's financial subsidy to the ROTC program, among other steps to distance the University from the military's ban on gays.

"The vote will obviously be taken into serious consideration by the president in the decisions of the coming months," Knowles said last week.

The vote was complicated even more, however, by the circumstances surrounding its timing.

Professor of English and Comparative Literature Barbara E. Johnson, who brought the motion to the Faculty, said the vote was partially meant to stand as a "counterweight" to the University's choice of Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin L. Powell as a Commencement speaker.

Feelings on precisely what the vote's message was and who it was meant for were far from universal among the Faculty, however. While some feared the Faculty was taking a political stance on a national question, others saw the question as Harvard-based and unconnected to Powell.

"We were talking about a matter immediately germane to our policy and our students," said Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes, who was on the ROTC committee. "People only think we shouldn't have opinions on national issues when their opinions aren't likely to prevail on the issue."

Gomes said the vote on the report "is our issue and has little to do with General Powell."

But whatever the vote meant in symbolic terms, the concrete actions on the report's recommendations are the province of Rudenstine and Knowles.

Both Rudenstine and Knowles have expressed support for and agreement with the conclusions of the report, but how quickly they will translate its recommendations into action is unclear.

Some of the report's recommendations have already been enacted, including a letter from Rudenstine to national officials speaking against the ban and dissemination of Harvard's anti-discrimination stance.

But the report also recommends that "Harvard should stop paying the MIT fee [for ROTC participation] beginning with the class entering in 1994" and calls for "efforts to negotiate a new relationship" with MIT and ROTC.

According to Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57, who was a ROTC committee member, admissions materials for the class of 1998 will likely include a cautionary note on the status of the ROTC program. But a real decision hangs on meetings with MIT and change on the national level, Knowles said.