For several years, the Faculty has barred financial or other direct University support of ROTC due to its discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards homosexuals. Under the current system, students at Harvard who wish to participate in ROTC must travel to MIT to do so. Rising very early in the morning to make the commute, ROTC cadets engage in rigorous physical training, military leadership classes and a course load that goes above and beyond that of the typical Harvard student. ROTC not only provides students with a way to serve their country while earning their degree, but also enables a great many of them to pay for it with the program’s generous financial plans.
The boycott of an organization because of moral opposition to its policies is a time-tested and effective method of social protest that can often prompt positive change. However, in this case, Harvard’s efforts seem to be myopic and misguided. ROTC is not a company or agency engaging in racist or discriminatory practices for the sake of an exclusionary agenda; nor is it really comparable. ROTC is a bureau of our nation’s military, undertaking the difficult task of building a bridge between the armed forces and the world of academia. ROTC should receive the full support of the nation’s universities, as the freedoms around which academic life revolves are the very freedoms that ROTC students fight and die to protect. Instead it is not only under-supported but also undermined.
Actively participating in the governing of one’s nation is a goal to which we all, as concerned and conscientious citizens, should aspire. Whether serving in the armed forces, entering the diplomatic corps, or merely performing the quotidian tasks of voting and paying taxes, each citizen’s individual contribution to our country is what makes America the paradigm of republican government our founding fathers intended. That the Harvard community has refused to support ROTC “financially or directly” marginalizes and trivializes the sacrifices that Harvard’s cadets make, and the irreplaceable services that they provide to this school and this country. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is only a small part of the ethos of the armed forces—and, it must be added, a part not supported by many of the students who participate in ROTC—and boycotting ROTC purely because of it demonstrates a shameful failure on Harvard’s part to see the forest for the trees.
In these trying times, Harvard University, long a progenitor of leaders of our nation and the world, should be doing all that it can today to cultivate the men and women who will shape the world of tomorrow. While undoubtedly well-intentioned, the University’s desire to support the full and equal rights of homosexuals need not—and must not—preclude its unequivocal support of ROTC on our campus.
—Zachary K. Goldman