Repeating a theme that has dominated his public agenda in the months since Sept. 11, Summers praised those in uniform, and highlighted the costs that have accompanied elite distaste for the military.
“The post-Vietnam cleavage between coastal elites and certain mainstream values is a matter of great concern and has some real costs,” Summers said.
In public appearances at his Installation ceremony, the Kennedy School, and before the Undergraduate Council Summers has stressed similar themes.
Summers said that Harvard has been hurt by the attitudes that emerged in the years since Vietnam and Watergate, and suggested that the current war in Afghanistan could provide the opportunity for change.
“The United States is engaged in a conflict that is very widely seen as between wrong and right, fear and hope, and is without the moral ambiguity of Vietnam,” he said.
“[This crisis] provides an opportunity for some reconciliation of values,” he said.
Harvard, according to Summers, has a responsibility as a “citizen” to support all public servants, especially “those who fight and are prepared to die.”
Summers also discussed two current topics in which he said Harvard’s patriotism has been tested—the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and the nationwide search of university campuses for suspected terrorists.
On ROTC, Summers emphasized that ROTC’s leadership had no desire to return to Harvard, from which it has been banished from the campus since the early 1970s. Currently the military’s “don’t ask-don’t tell” policy on gays excludes ROTC from campus under the University’s discrimination policy.
But Summers noted that he has been presented with a variety of viewpoints on the school’s fiscal ties to the program. Currently the school does not in any way subsidize ROTC and is entirely separated from its operation financially.
While he declined to say whether he was reconsidering this and other ROTC related policies, Summers repeated the University’s moral commitment to support the armed services.
Summers also said that Harvard has an obligation to comply with investigators scouring university campuses in search of leads on the Sept. 11 hijackings.
A survey conducted by New York Times last week revealed that more than 200 universities had been contacted for information about students of Middle Eastern descent.
Summers said that he was not aware of specific subpoenas aimed at Harvard students’ records. “There hasn’t been a case brought to my attention or to the University’s central administration,” he said.
“We have a deep commitment to the privacy of our students and the confidentiality of their records,” Summers said. He added that the University has an obligation to comply with the law. “If issues arise we will find a balance,” he added.