Sever Ties With ROTC


It seemed like the perfect compromise--a convenient way for Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences to avoid taking a stand on ROTC. The University would stop paying MIT to run the ROTC program and thus further remove itself from the specter of the ban on gays in the military.

But MIT officials last week reported no sign of discussions, much less negotiations, about the status of Harvard's revised system of payment. Another escape route closed.

This is further proof that Harvard needs to take a firm position on the military's bigoted policy against homosexuals. It's time for Harvard to do what it should nave done years ago: dismantle Harvard's off-campus ROTC program, for as long as the ban on gays remains.

Harvard has, in the past, flirted with the idea of making a decision about ROTC. But the University has never taken a final stand on the program.

In 1990, they came close. When model midshipman David A. Carney '89 revealed that he was gay, the military demanded that he return his scholarship money. At that point, the Faculty recognized that maintaining ties with ROTC represented a violation of Harvard's 1985 non-discrimination policy. But the Faculty stopped short of action. It pledged instead to cut ties with ROTC in two years, barring significant change in the military's policy toward gays.

The deadline passed in 1992, and Dean Jeremy R. Knowles stymied enforcement of the 1990 ultimatum, issuing, postponing and re-postponing a report. Most recently, Harvard settled on its current non-deal with MIT, a weak compromise calculated to sidestep principle in favor of convenience.

Throughout the embarrassing saga, the Faculty relied on a bright hope and a false promise, praying that the election of Bill Clinton would make ROTC a moot issue. But Clinton's pledge to lift the ban went the way of most campaign promises. And the Faculty is still trying, by every means possible, to avoid taking a stand.

Harvard's administration must put an end to its cowardly dance with discrimination: Cut all ties with ROTC, effective with the Class 1999.

Under close scrutiny, the arguments for keeping ROTC on campus--arguments we ourselves used two months ago--do not hold. It is easy to reduce the debate over ROTC to a quibble over technicalities, the very technicalities that have allowed the University to equivocate without losing face. What often gets lost in the squabbling is the matter of right and wrong.

And discrimination is decidedly, undoubtedly wrong. The military's policy only lingers because of lingering prejudice, which fosters ridiculous stereotypes and false assumptions. Were ROTC to discriminate against another group--against Black students, for instance, or against women--there would be no debate. The Faculty would toss ROTC out, without considering technicalities.

Even on those technicalities, arguments for ROTC fail to persuade. For example, ROTC supporters suggest that if Harvard stopped accepting ROTC scholarship money, it would also have to reject scholarships that are available only to minorities, for the sake of "consistency" in anti-discrimination.

However, there is a patent difference between a ROTC scholarship and a grant from, say, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. One excludes on the premise of bigotry, the other is designed to offer a specific group the opportunity of an education.

ROTC advocates profess concern for cadets in need of the financial assistance that ROTC provides. Fortunately, Harvard has something called need-blind admissions, and guarantees that every student who demonstrates need will receive aid.

ROTC supporters cry hypocrisy, wondering why Harvard need not reject all grants from the military, not only student scholarships.

But by accepting student scholarships, Harvard is directly participating in the military's ban on gays. On the other hand, the military has never withdrawn research funds on the basis of sexual orientation. We are advocating a direct boycott.

Supporters of ROTC also suggest that Harvard, instead of cutting ties with the program, should pressure Congress and President Clinton to lift the ban. In fact, the University already does pressure Congress--and should continue to do so. But Harvard should be a leader, and leaders don't just talk. They act.

In order to exert any real pressure, Harvard must server its connection to ROTC. By affirming its own ethical stand against discrimination, the University would be sending an urgent message to Washington, and to the rest of the country. Harvard could credibly use its bully pulpit to decry the military's ban on gays as nothing more than a homophobic defense of the status quo, similar to another by-gone era, when the military's ban on Black Americans was nothing more than a racist defense of another status quo.

There was a time, some 40 years ago, when Harvard was less fearful of taking a public stand, less timid about defending the truth. In the 1950s, the University, under president James Bryant Conant, denounced McCarthyism in a bold public statement. Stepping into its role as a leading American institution, Harvard looked controversy squarely in the eye.

Today, we are proud of that moment, when the University stood by its convictions. We urge it to do so again.