ROTC Debate Sparks Controversy in Council

A front-page article in The Wall Street Journal yesterday sparked a contentious but informal debate among Undergraduate Council members over the future of Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at Harvard.

The debate began when council member John F. Bash ’03 announced in an e-mail that he would raise the issue of bringing ROTC back to Harvard at the next Student Affairs Committe meeting, which could lead to a bill for the council’s consideration.

ROTC does not currently receive any funding from the University, and students participating in the program must travel to MIT for training.

Bash said yesterday that he did not intend to start the e-mail skirmish that ensued over the issue.

“I’d really just like to see an open dialogue on the issue,” Bash said. The debate, he said, should include traditional advocates of ROTC as well as groups like the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Supporters Association (BGLTSA) who have in the past opposed the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

But any hopes for a council bill on the issue were quickly dampened by council President Paul A. Gusmorino ’02 and Secretary James R. Griffin ’02.

Gusmorino said he does not want to stifle debate, but he said he feels that plunging the council into the ROTC issue would more likely lead to bickering and animosity than to an acceptable solution.

“I haven’t heard of a viable proposal that would improve Harvard’s policy,” Gusmorino said.

Griffin warned in an e-mail that any ROTC bill could “ground the entire council to a halt and kill all forward momentum.”

The council passed a bill four years ago calling for the University to allow ROTC recruiters on campus, to provide shuttles to MIT for Harvard ROTC cadets, and to reassume funding for Harvard cadets at MIT.

But Griffin said the Harvard administration did not comply with the bill’s recommendations and the council had to face an outraged constituency.

“The Crimson ridiculed us, and the campus opinion of the council dropped. It actually had an impact on Springfest, as people were still hostile to the UC by the time it came around,” Griffin wrote in an e-mail.

The last thing Gusmorino wants, according to many council members, is to have a contentious political issue distract the group from the fulfillment of his campaign platform of “improving student life, standing up for students, saving students money and enhancing the academic experience.”

Gusmorino said he has tried to be “proactive in preventing this from distracting the council from its agenda.”

“Paul has a good agenda,” Bash said. “He doesn’t want anything too controversial to come up.”

And if anything can be controversial, it is ROTC and the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuals.