Is Harvard Giving Up on Its ROTC Promises?

It is beginning to look as though Harvard administrators and some activists have capitulated on their once hard line stand against anti-gay discrimination in the military's ROTC program.

The latest evidence of retreat was a statement in last week's Faculty meeting by President Neil L. Rudenstine postponing to the MIT program used by Harvard's ROTC students.

"We have been working toward a resolution that would both affirm our policy of non-discrimination and maintain ROTC as an option for students attending Harvard," Rudenstine said.

But that may be presidential code for a delay that may violate the timetable of a 1992 report endorsed by Rudenstine and approved by the Faculty last spring.

"If the Department of Defense policy remains in effect, Harvard should stop paying the MIT fee beginning with the [Class of 1998]," says the report which prepared by a committee chaired by pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba '53 .

In the past, University officials have said there was nothing wrong with a delay because the report says the Class of 1998 provision is "not a rigid requirement."

But in the very same paragraph, the report says:

"This flexibility, however is not meant to be a license for delay. It ought only to be invoked if substantial progress has been made and a change seems likely within a reasonable time period."

But Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57, a member of the Verba committee, says he trusts recent assertions by Rudenstine that "substantial progress" has been made in talks with MIT over the ROTC fee paid by Harvard.

"I don't have any reason to question what the president said, "Jewett said.

And Jewett and other top administrators continue to deny the University is backpedaling.

Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles says the Verba report allows the decision deadline to be postponed. Both he and Rudenstine say they wanted to allow the early admission candidates to make their decisions with confidence in the scholarship funding.

"A withdrawal from the program would be irreversible," Knowles says. "We think it would be improper to exclude the entering Class of 1998 at this point."

In the fall, Rudenstine and others indicatedthat President Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell"compromise--which slightly eased restrictions ongays in the military--might re-open the debateover cutting ties to ROTC. But all indicationshave been that the status of negotiations withMIT--and not "don't ask, don't tell"--are behindthe present delay.

That delay, Knowles insists, does not representa reversal.