ROTC Funding Raises Concern

University President Lawrence H. Summers raised questions about Harvard’s “uncomfortable” and “unorthodox” funding support for students in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) in a study break at Winthrop House Wednesday night.

Although Harvard allows students to travel to MIT, which provides an ROTC unit for Tufts and Wellesley as well, it does not officially fund the costs associated with the program because of a Faculty decision regarding the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a policy Summers said many might consider discriminatory. Instead, the University requested that alumni fund the program without going through official channels.

Yet Summers has come out in favor of patriotism and specifically ROTC, writing in a Veterans Day letter to “Harvard Cadets and Midshipmen” that he “and many others deeply admire those of you who choose to serve society in this way.”

More recently, Summers asked Harvard’s yearbook staff to make ROTC an exception to their policy of excluding activities that are not official student groups from mention in the book. Summers met with yearbook editors Dec. 13 and made a “personal request” to honor students by recording their participation in ROTC, Yearbook President Kyna G. Fong ’03 said.

At the study break Summers attended Wednesday night, he polled students in the audience and asked if they would support Harvard changing its policy to fund ROTC through official channels.

Harvard’s current policy stems from a Faculty Council vote in 1994 that Harvard money should not be used to support students who participate in ROTC at MIT, former vice president for alumni affairs and development Fred Glimp said. The costs of the program are administrative and total about $130,000 to $160,000 a year, Glimp said.

With the knowledge of the council, then-University President Neil L. Rudenstine asked Glimp to approach “alumni who cared enough about it to make annual gifts to a separate tax entity” in the care of a local law firm.

“It’s a route around the intent, but the Faculty knew specifically what was going on,” Glimp said.

Since then, two alumni have split the cost each year, except for one year in which a few different alumni split the cost.

“There are plenty of people who’d be glad to do this,” Glimp said.

Summers said at the study break that

“the University has pursued funding arrangements that are unorthodox to cover expenses at MIT.” He added that “It’s a compromise that is uncomfortable but resolves the matter so students can pursue ROTC activities.”

About 20 students polled by Summers indicated they would like Harvard to fund the program openly, while about the same number indicated they would keep the status quo of the alumni funding. Two students responded that they would not have the University, including alumni, support the program in any form.

Summers said the military does not wish to reestablish an ROTC unit at Harvard, which sponsored one until the anti-war atmosphere of the ’60s and ’70s forced the program off-campus, because it has adopted a “cluster concept” in which one site serves for a number of schools.

Yet in the more patriotic atmosphere following Sept. 11, not only Summers has raised questions about Harvard’s “unorthodox” policy.

In its first-ever newsletter this fall, The Advocates for Harvard ROTC, which numbers among its supporters former Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger ’38 as well as about 1000 alumni, praised Summers as someone who “pierced the thirty-year dark cloud of disdain and intolerance that enveloped Harvard ROTC.”