Council Asks University To Help Cadets Earn ROTC Credit

The University should make it easier for students in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to count Harvard courses for credit toward their military studies, the Undergraduate Council said in a contentious resolution passed last night.

The resolution, which says Harvard should not change its offerings to accommodate ROTC specifically, encourages professors who teach subjects relevant to the ROTC curriculum to meet with the military officers who determine whether courses can fulfill cadets’ requirements.

Air Force cadet Brian R. Smith ’02, who proposed the legislation, said it would allow cadets to avoid time-consuming commutes to MIT, which already offers courses that count toward ROTC requirements. Harvard currently offers no courses that have been sanctioned by military officials.

Smith said the recommendation, which passed by a 19-12 margin, did not signify a “major move” or change in the council’s stance on ROTC and would only serve to simplify cadets’ academic lives.

But much of the council debate centered on whether the resolution, which opponents called “underhanded” and “sly,” would commit the council to supporting ROTC. Shira S. Simon ’04 said the bill avoided a serious debate on the merits of the ROTC program.

“My problem is that it seems to be under the guise of trying to pass a bill when I really think this is trying to make a statement of support for ROTC,” she said.

Alexander B. Patterson ’04 said such characterizations were unfounded because of an amendment to the bill saying any step the University takes to facilitate contact with ROTC must not conflict with “the letter or the spirit of Harvard’s non-discrimination policy.”

Harvard maintains no official ties with ROTC because the Faculty has ruled that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals violates the University’s stance on discrimination. But the University does allow cadets to participate in a unit at MIT, in a program funded by an independent group of Harvard alumni.

Council Vice President Anne M. Fernandez ’03 said the legislation distinguishes between the ROTC program and the individual Harvard students who participate in it—supporting the students without necessarily endorsing the institution.

But Fred O. Smith ’04 told the council that the debate and bill were “disturbing” because they neglected the interests of students affected by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“Very often during the course of the discussion we talked about the anti-discrimination policy as something we have to get around,” said Smith, who is co-chair of Harvard’s Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters’ Alliance.

Fred Smith added that for gay students who have been forced to leave ROTC and repay scholarship money to the government, “the inconvenience is far greater than people having to travel for ROTC.”

Brian Smith and other supporters stressed that the bill did not require any financial support of ROTC from the University—which the Faculty has expressly prohibited.

But Oluseyi A. Fayanju ’05 said that, in the case of lotteried courses, encouraging ROTC students to enroll for credit would limit courses’ availability to the rest of the student body—effectively diverting resources to the cadets.

Fred Smith also joined Simon in questioning the purpose of the resolution. Since professors can already discuss their course syllabi with whomever they chose—including ROTC officials—the only purpose of the bill was to make a “political” statement, he said.

But Brian Smith said he had contacted professors and believed many would be more receptive to meeting with military officials with University support.

“We all know that having an individual student or group ask for something is a lot different than having an administrator ask for it,” he said.

Earlier in the year University President Lawrence H. Summers, who has raised questions about what he described as the “unorthodox” alumni funding for cadets who train at MIT, had asked the council to take a position on ROTC.

Staff writer Elisabeth S. Theodore can be reached at theodore@fas.harvard.edu.