Council Bill Supports Cadets

Harvard can maintain its moral position while still accommodating ROTC students

Harvard continues to have a difficult relationship with the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)—it supports students who serve but not ROTC itself, due to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of discrimination against gays. In this context, the recent Undergraduate Council bill that encourages cooperation between professors and military officers to make relevant Harvard courses fulfill military course requirements is a positive step—it will help cadets without undermining the University’s moral position.

The ROTC program requires cadets to take a fifth course each semester about military science, leadership or military history in addition to their Harvard classes. It also requires students to participate in a rigorous physical training and drill schedule. To take these courses and to participate in other ROTC activities, Harvard cadets must commute to MIT three to five times a week. Harvard’s cadets will benefit if they can integrate at least some of the required ROTC courses into their normal curriculum. Even if cadets must still take five classes per semester, they could be spared at least some trips to MIT.

The frequent commutes certainly have a negative impact on cadets’ ability to fully participate in the rest of University life. Regardless of the competency and professionalism with which cadets undertake their duties, they only have so much time and energy. Harvard’s cadets deserve anything the University can do to help; it is largely because of past, present and future cadets fighting to protect our freedom that the rest of us have the luxury of pontificating about whether we support ROTC. Students with the courage and bravery to become military officers should not have unnecessary inconveniences imposed on them when they can be reasonably avoided.

The potential downside to the council’s action is that the proposal might be seen as a betrayal of Harvard’s anti-discrimination policy. However, this new policy won’t bring ROTC directly to Harvard—it will continue the arms-length separation between the University and the military. Like the unofficial funding of ROTC through a group of independent alumni, increased cooperation would make Harvard’s relationship with ROTC more feasible for cadets but keep it morally defensible for the University.

Others claim that inconvenience to ROTC cadets is insignificant compared to the fact that gay students cannot serve. But many of Harvard’s cadets may privately disagree with the military’s discriminatory policy, and they should not be punished for a policy which is not theirs to decide.

This resolution is not, and shouldn’t be perceived as, an attack on the beliefs or ideals of non-cadets; it rightly keeps the ROTC program off campus, where it belongs as long as cadets of any sexual orientation cannot serve. Instead, it recognizes and salutes the dedication with which Harvard’s cadets serve their country.

Dissent: A Tacit Endorsement of ROTC

The proposal to ask the administration to ask professors to ask Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) officers to approve their courses for ROTC credit is an absurd and underhanded attempt to show support for the discriminatory institution itself. The Staff’s notion that this declaration is somehow balanced—by making life easier for the cadets while remaining neutral on the ultimate status of ROTC at Harvard—ignores the crucial fact that encouraging University interaction with ROTC officials is a tacit endorsement for ROTC itself.

As it stands, there is absolutely nothing barring professors from contacting ROTC officers and getting their courses approved. The proposal requests additional administrative encouragement, encouragement which the administration does not provide to make life easier for students involved in other extracurricular activities. The Staff should be more honest with itself and should not be so easily deluded into endorsing an organization which it actually does not wish to endorse.

—Jonathan P. Abel ’05, Nicholas F. M. Josefowitz ’05,

Judd B. Kessler ’04, Jasmine J. Mahmoud ’04,

Emma R. F. Nothmann ’04, Daniel P. Mosteller ’03,

Benjamin J. Toff ’05 and Ariel Z. Weisbard ’02-’03