Council Sparks Debate With Proposal to Reconsider ROTC

Members question military's stance on gays

Undergraduate Council members drafted a bill Tuesday that would express support for bringing the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) back to Harvard.

But in light of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay men and lesbians, the proposed bill has sparked controversy about the role of the armed forces on campus.

"This bill is a slap in the face of every queer student on this campus," wrote Anna M. Baldwin '00 in a message to the council's group e-mail list. "I am out-raged at the contempt for the rights of gay students implicit in this bill."

The "ROTC Task Force Authorization Bill" docketed by the council's Student Affairs Committee (SAC) states the council's approval for reinstituting ROTC on campus and sets up a task force that will clarify the College's current policy and investigate the practical aspects of bringing back the program.

Currently students participating in ROTC travel to MIT for classes and drill lab each week.

Council representative Aurelio Torre '00, who drafted the bill, raised the concern that by not allowing ROTC on campus, Harvard is essentially sending a message of disapproval to students in the program.

"Supporters of this bill feel that the guilt by association which is imposed upon ROTC cadets is inherently unfair, for they are punished for a policy they have no control over," he said.

"Not allowing ROTC students to participate in one of the most fundamental aspects of their education and their lives on this campus is a very strong condemnation," Torre added.

Former council vice president Samuel C. Cohen '00 said he believed there is no easy solution to the problems posed by ROTC programs on campuses. He pointed out that Harvard students' concerns are only a small part of the controversy surrounding congressional policy on gay men and lesbians in the military.

"Many people would view a decision by the council to support bringing ROTC back to campus as a symbol that we didn't think the military's discrimination against homosexuals was that bad a thing," Cohen added.

"That negative symbolism makes this in my mind so that we cannot bring ROTC back to campus at this time," he said.

Council representative Shai M. Sachs '01 said he worries that expressing support for ROTC would set a dangerous precedent.

"The very real, pragmatic issue is that if we allow this group onto campus then there's a real problem that we'll have other groups who feel they can discriminate," said Sachs, who is also a Crimson editor.

"Because of the current structure of the program, it is questionable whether ROTC would even want to have independent resources at Harvard. Under the Boston Consortium, none of the area collegeshave their own ROTC offices. Cadets from Tufts,MIT, Wellesley and Harvard all participatetogether on MIT's campus. Harvard still hostscertain ROTC activities.

Harvard cadets said they don't feel anoverwhelming need for a ROTC program on campus.

Recommended Articles