ROTC Policy Battle Rages

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, What Now?

Gather up the ammunition: It looks as though Harvard, reacting to the new "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy on gays in the military announced this July, is ready to start the battle over on-campus ROTC again this semester.

The faces of the participants have changed since the arguments over gay participation in ROTC at Harvard started in the late 1980s, but the essential elements of the conflict have not: balancing a stance against antigay discrimination with the rights and needs of student cadets.

According to MIT's ROTC office, approximately 36 Harvard students will participate in Navy ROTC this year, 13 in Air Force ROTC and between 20 and 30 in Army ROTC. Currently, Harvard pays approximately $130,000 per year to MIT for these students' participation.

While these cadets will probably not be affected by any policy change Harvard makes, future cadets now wait in policy limbo. Last spring, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences endorsed the recommendations of the 1992 ROTC Committee report, which would cut Harvard funding to MIT by 1995 if the military's ban on gays was not lifted.

But the final decision always rested with President Neil L. Rudenstine and Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, and both are backing off, calling for more informal discussion of the issue before any action.

"My hope is that the Verba committee will simply look at the landscape and give us advice," says Knowles. "I hope that committee will meet simply to see how their recommendations sit in the post-July landscape." A re-examination of the issue in the Faculty Council or the full Faculty is also possible, he says.

"I myself didn't estimate the [possibility] of having formal sessions and certainly not another committee," says Rudenstine. He does want to see general discussion of the issue in the Faculty and the general community, he says.

And if the ROTC committee is resuscitated, it will need some new faces. Of the original 11 members of the ROTC committee, the three undergraduates have graduated and three of the eight professors are on leave this semester.

Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba'53, the committee's chair, says the ban was notlifted by the new federal policy, leaving thesituation the same as the one under which thecommittee made its original recommendations. "Inall likelihood, I think we should just carry outwhat the report said," he says.

But while policy at the institutional levelchanges slowly, those who are immediately affectedby the ROTC debate continue arguments begun yearsago.

To students and instructors involved in ROTC,ending Harvard's involvement would deprive theCollege, the cadets and the country of a valuableresource. For example, says Army ROTC cadet CurtisL. Pierce '94, campus diversity would sufferwithout ROTC.

Much of Harvard knows little about themilitary, he says, and he often encountersassumptions.

"I think that a shortcoming that many peoplehave is that their interpretation of army life iswhat they see in the movies," he says. He findsmany students "expect hard-core conservatives" inmilitary occupations.

Pierce says that to counter such assumptions,he "made it a point" to wear his uniform todinner, where he would often field questions onmilitary policy toward gays, the army experienceand other topics.

Without his ROTC scholarship, Pierce says, heand many others would not attend Harvard.

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