Four years ago the Faculty Council took a deep breath and made a rare statement of courageous principle.
Denouncing the military ban on homosexuals, the Faculty announced that if two years passed without substantial progress toward ending this discrimination the College would stop accepting ROTC scholarship money, effectively ending the ROTC program at Harvard.
It was a tough, uncompromising stand. Too bad it didn't last.
The University has been backpedaling ever since, clouding the indisputable fact of ROTC's discrimination against gay students with bureaucratic confusion, redefinitions, qualifications and rationalizations. The latest delay came last week when President Neil L. Rudenstine announced that, contrary to a previous deadline, the class of 1998 will be able to participate fully in the ROTC program through MIT. Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles denied that this was a "turn-around" and he was absolutely right. Such behavior is entirely consistent with the University's inaction on this issue over the last few years.
Two years ago, the University was forced to face the fact that the 1990 deadline was about to expire and the military was still systematically discriminating against homosexuals, squarely in opposition to Harvard's own non-discrimination policy. The administration's solution? Postpone, delay, fudge the issue and hope no one notices.
The 1992 report, prepared by a Faculty committee chaired by Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba '53, said that rather than refusing scholarship money. Harvard should simply stop paying MIT the roughly $132,000 (as of 1992) annual fee for allowing Harvard students to enroll in the MIT ROTC program. As a further compromise, the Verba report also proposed another two-year delay before acting. The Verba report was endorsed by Rudenstine himself and approved by the Faculty last spring.
Now, just in time to justify yet another postponement, University officials hint that complicated negotiations with MIT are all that is holding them up. Knowles commented that "a withdrawal from the program would be irreversible. We think it would be improper to exclude the entering Class of 1998 at this point."
Yet surely Knowles knows that "at this point" really means "ever." Once ROTC funding is approved for the incoming class, it will hardly be taken away midway through their Harvard career.
This postponement means that Harvard's ties to ROTC will not be severed completely until, at the earliest,eight yearsafter the Faculty Council's initial 1990 statement.
As for the "irreversibility" of such a break, look at history. In 1969, the University terminated its ROTC program over anti-war protests. In 1976, after tensions over the Vietnam War had cooled, Harvard established its current off-campus ROTC program.
This newest delay reveals a glaring absurdity: The Verba report came out two years ago, yet administrators are still working out the details.
How hard was it for the administration to realize that MIT might not be delighted to bear the financial burden of Harvard's uneasy conscience?
The truth is that many members of the faculty and the administration endorsed the Verba report, hoping that the election of Bill Clinton would make its conclusions moot. When it did not, the University once again had to look for cover.
If Rudenstine or Knowles were to announce next month that there will be a two-year "phased withdrawal" of funds, don't be shocked.
Meanwhile, proponents of keeping ROTC at Harvard are again bringing up the same misleading arguments that failed to convince anyone four years ago. Back then the campus was flush with indignation that the military had thrown out one of Harvard's own, Naval ROTC officer David E. Carney '89, and demanded that he return $51,000 in ROTC scholarships. Back then, the issue was clearly discrimination.