ROTC Bill Sponsors

Council members campaign for ROTC support

Students appreciate fly-by lunches, Winter Break shuttles and Springfest. But the Undergraduate Council made its presence felt with a much more controversial proposal this spring.

In March, Council members Aurelio Torre '00, Brian R. Smith '02 and Bradley L. Davis '00 sponsored a bill that endorsed the return of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to Harvard.

Currently, Harvard students who wish to participate in ROTC must travel to MIT to do so. The University banned ROTC from campus in 1969, when tensions over the Vietnam War enraged student activists. In 1994, the University stopped payments to MIT for the ROTC program, citing concerns about discrimination against gay students.

The original bill proposed by Torre, Davis and Smith specifically asked for a campus ROTC program. The amended bill they offered to the council instead called upon the University to allow recruiters on campus, provide shuttle service for cadets to MIT for training and reassume responsibility for funding Harvard cadets.

Davis said he thought the compromise bill would satisfy more people.

"There is a way to work with these students and respect what they do without breaking Harvard's non-discrimination policies," he said.

Many students still expressed dismay over what they saw as a tacit endorsement of the military's discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The authors steadfastly promoted the legislation as a practical service for students rather than a political statement.

"This isn't an issue of left, this isn't an issue of right.... This is an issue of student services," Torre said during the debate on the council floor.

"When I wrote the bill, my main idea was that we shouldn't reject the [organization] because of one particular aspect," he said in an interview.

But that one aspect was enough to spawn over 130 e-mail messages to uc-general, many of them vehement, arguing the bill.

Smith was the quietest of the three. An Air Force ROTC cadet, he stressed over and over that he didn't want his comments to be construed as representative of the military's stance and provided little more than explanations of Harvard's current policy.

When questioned during the debate, Smith talked about the inconveniences involved with things like recruiting.

"You either seek out someone, or ROTC cadets can talk to people on their own. We can't [recruit] openly," he explained.

The legislation was heavily amended and passed by the council, changed to condemn discrimination in the military and stopped short of endorsing a battalion on campus. But it remains to be seen if Torre, Davis and Smith's victory will produce anything more than overloaded e-mail accounts now that it has been passed on to the administration.

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