ROTC Redux

Despite the intractability of Harvard’s anti-military vendetta, those who look eagerly to the day when the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) comes marching home should find, in recent events at Harvard Law School (HLS), cause for optimism.

For years, the law school denied Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) recruiters permission to interview students at the Law School’s Office of Career Services, on the grounds that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy discriminates against homosexuals. Instead, the Air Force relied on the Harvard Law School Veterans Association to arrange interviews with interested students.

This year, however, the Air Force threatened to invoke a 1996 federal statute known as the Solomon Amendment against Harvard. The Solomon Amendment sets forth a series of conditions governing the relationship between universities and the military. If the Department of Defense determines that a university has violated any of these conditions, that university becomes ineligible to receive funding from federal agencies.

The Air Force argued that HLS recruiting ban violated one of these conditions, which requires that military recruiters have equal access to school facilities. Harvard thus faced the hundred-million-dollar question: How much were its values really worth? School administrators decided that the answer was something less than $328 million, the amount Harvard stood to lose, and the University capitulated.

There followed the usual choreographed outrage. Lambda, HLS’s resident gay-rights group (and what campus is complete without one?), has planned a protest for today. HLS Dean Robert C. Clark will be in attendance, as will Al Dershowitz (never one to miss a good controversy). But they can do little to change the fact that JAG recruiters have found a home at HLS.

Now, having discovered Harvard’s weakness, the Department of Defense should pursue its advantage. Of the many conditions in the Solomon Amendment for which federal funding can be withheld, one in particular catches the eye: No funds may be provided to an institution of higher education that, in the judgment of the Secretary of Defense (nota bene), “either prohibits, or in effect prevents, the Secretary of a military department from maintaining, establishing, or operating a unit of the Senior Reserve Officer Training Corps…at that institution.”

What a marvelous gift for our conservative, outspoken defense secretary. Harvard’s refusal to allow ROTC units to operate on campus has long been a burr under the military’s saddle, but the Solomon Amendment gives Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the leverage to remove it.

It is difficult to say why Harvard’s ROTC policy has not yet been found in violation of the Solomon Amendment. Associate Dean David P. Illingworth ’71 suggests the reason is that Harvard students are able to ride the T to Kendall Square. “It would appear that the College is in compliance with the Solomon Amendment,” he writes in an e-mail. “Harvard students have full access to ROTC at MIT and take advantage of that opportunity.”

Yet the opportunities afforded through MIT’s ROTC program do not change the fact that official University policy prohibits the military from “maintaining, establishing or operating” an ROTC unit on the Harvard campus. The policy is, prima facie, a violation of the Solomon Amendment, and as such it is vulnerable to assault from the Pentagon.

The last federal review of Harvard’s compliance with the Solomon Amendment took place during the Clinton years. Those were benighted times, and it is not surprising that the military turned a blind eye on the College’s violation; after all, it also decided that HLS recruiting ban was kosher. But the recent reversal of that position demonstrates that the present administration is a mite more concerned about anti-military bias at elite universities than was its predecessor. If Rumsfeld wants to overcome the institutional rules through which that bias has become entrenched, he should not limit his gaze to the law school.

In fact, the defense department quite possibly could force Harvard’s hand even without the Solomon Amendment. According to Harvard’s Office of Sponsored Research, the University received roughly $16.4 million in research grants from the department of defense during fiscal year 2002. While Congress occasionally earmarks grants for particular universities, in most cases the defense department has discretion to award these grants where it pleases. At a very minimum the department could lay down, as a condition for future grants, that a ticker-tape parade through Harvard Yard be held for ROTC, in honor of its return to campus as an official student organization. If necessary, it would not be difficult to drum up support for a Congressional resolution backing this policy.

Even ROTC’s opponents should consider supporting this position to demonstrate the sincerity of their objections to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In this matter they could take a lesson from the signatories of the anti-Israel divestment petition, who find Israel’s policies racist, colonial, apartheid and any number of equally nasty adjectives. Now most of us have the good sense to see that these charges are utterly wrong. But the Israel-bashers are at least consistent: If you think Israel’s actions are reprehensible, you ought not to have dealings with Israel.

The hypocrisy of Harvard’s ROTC position, on the other hand, reduces the University administration and its myrmidons to a kind of prostitution. They are perfectly willing to accept millions of dollars from, and to do research for, the very institution whose policies they brand immoral and discriminatory.

Of course, the military never chose “don’t ask, don’t tell;” it was, rather, enacted through Congressional legislation. Manifestly the University isn’t interested in lobbying through institutional channels, preferring instead to throw ROTC out and lock the gates. To be consistent, then, perhaps Harvard should voluntarily renounce federal funding altogether.

Then again, so long as your views are fashionable, why bother with consistency?

Jason L. Steorts ’01-’03 is a philosophy concentrator in Dunster House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.