Respect Students Who Serve

ROTC does not belong on campus, but public servants are worthy of students’ praise

As the American flags blossomed from windows and lampposts in Harvard Square during the past two months, President Lawrence H. Summers has repeatedly stressed the need for the University to support America’s public servants. At his installation ceremony, before the Undergraduate Council, and in interviews with The Crimson, Summers spoke of honoring those who serve the nation. A former Cabinet secretary, Summers has shown his own deep commitment to public service through his actions. We are heartened that he has used the bully pulpit that the Harvard presidency affords to remind us of our responsibilities during these difficult times. We hope that students listen seriously to his message. However, support for the government—especially in the academy—need not be unconditional or uncritical. As the Harvard community expresses its support for the nation, it must be careful not to compromise important values in response to patriotic impulses.

The proposal, which gained new urgency after Sept. 11, to bring the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) back to the campus is one of those issues that pulls at both our principles and our patriotic feelings. ROTC, which was originally kicked off campus in a climate of protest against the Vietnam war, is currently banned from Harvard due to the Clinton administration policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” concerning homosexuals in the military. The College’s policy on student groups specifically prohibits groups from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We support the College’s policy and maintain that ROTC should not return to campus until the U.S. military stops discriminating against Americans willing to die for their country.

Despite our strong disagreement with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” we call on American students to support those of their classmates who choose to join ROTC through its presence at MIT. The work of protecting our nation has become even more urgent in the past two months, and those who serve in the military deserve our praise and our thanks. There is a widespread perception that Harvard looks down upon the military—media reports often contrasted Summers’ comments with the reputation the student body has gained since the violent anti-war protests during the Vietnam era. But our disagreement with the military’s policy on homosexuals stems from a desire to improve the military, not to deny its worth. We applaud the efforts of the ROTC Association, a non-discriminatory and College-approved student group, to educate students on the military and to show students the value of the public service in which their friends and classmates are engaged.

Summers’ comments are a refreshing reminder that the academy cannot abdicate responsibility in supporting those who protect our nation. Even though we may not always agree with the specific policies of the government, citizens still have the duty to support their government and all of its public servants.

However, even more noteworthy than Summers’ comments on patriotism is his willingness to state his views on the hotly debated issues of the day. Former president Neil L. Rudenstine rarely used his position as president of Harvard to address such matters. We agree with Summers’ message, and we hope he continues to speak his mind on issues of national import.