Tonight, when Summers speaks at the annual commencement dinner of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus (HGLC), it will be only the second time a Harvard president has taken the podium at the annual event since the alumni group was founded in 1983.
Former University president Neil L. Rudenstine attempted to quiet concerns within the group when he addressed them in June 1993. At that time, Harvard was in the midst of reevaluating its policy on directly funding ROTC—a policy that many equated with institutional support for the military’s discrimination against homosexuals.
Likewise, HGLC members hope Summers will say at tonight’s dinner that he does not plan to reopen a debate resolved seven years ago when Harvard decided to allow alumni to set up a ROTC trust not under University control.
Summers has repeatedly and publicly criticized this arrangement but has remained noncommittal on the possibility of a change.
“I do have some concerns about where he’s going to move,” says Warren Goldfarb ’69, Pearson professor of modern mathematics and mathematical logic in the philosophy department and former co-chair of HGLC. “We hope for some reassurance at the ceremony.”
Although Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 have attended ROTC commissioning ceremonies for years—just as they have gone to events held by campus gay rights groups—both ROTC cadets and those worried about University ties to the military say that Summers’ presence will be different.
Air Force cadet Brian R. Smith ’02 says the University’s attitude toward ROTC changed dramatically with Summers’ arrival.
“It always felt like Harvard was doing all they could to keep ROTC’s impact or presence as minimal as possible,” Smith says.
Now, he says, Summers’ administration is providing vocal support—a support that members of Harvard’s Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters’ Alliance (BGLTSA) say may be heading too far toward support of a discriminatory policy.
“That’s shady ground to me, as far as exactly what capacity Summers would be attending that event in, and whether his presence symbolically confers a legitimacy on it that his absence would not,” says Marcel A. Q. LaFlamme ’04, political chair of BGLTSA. “I’m not sure I see it as wholly appropriate.”
Whether or not Summers chooses to change Harvard’s carefully maintained distance from ROTC, his advocacy has stirred a debate over how Harvard can separate support of cadets from support of military policy. With pro-military sentiment on the rise around the country since Sept. 11, cadets and their supporters are now asking whether the compromise reached in 1995 should be maintained.
‘An Uncomfortable Compromise’
Summers has been an outspoken supporter of patriotism and respect for ROTC cadets since his arrival at Harvard.
“Patriotism,” he said in an Oct. 26 speech at the Kennedy School of Government, was a word that was “used too infrequently” in academia. He added that he hoped Sept. 11 would create greater respect for military service.
“There is a special nobility, a special grace, to those who are prepared to sacrifice their lives for our country,” Summers said. He echoed these sentiments in a Veterans’ Day letter to Harvard cadets and midshipmen.