More Students Enroll in ROTC

Class of 18 first-years is largest in recent years

Crimson Graphic

Twice a week, Lauren L. Brown ’07 puts down her textbooks and leaves her home in Harvard Yard for a 30-minute T ride to the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) detachment at MIT.

This time spent on the subway is a welcome sacrifice, she said, for being able to participate in the ROTC program, which was banned from the Harvard campus in 1969 amidst the antiwar protests of the era.

And more and more first-years, it seems, are sharing Brown’s sentiments.

This fall, 18 Harvard first-year students joined the three branches of the program, the largest entering class in the past several years. Eleven first-years joined in ROTC in 2001 and 16 in 2002.

“You can see that the effects of increased patriotism have renewed an interest in American youth to enter the military,” said Bob Holland, Professor of Naval Science for the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) at MIT.

The number of Harvard first-years participating in NROTC has increased markedly, from two midshipmen in fall 2000 to 10 this fall. Harvard participation in Air Force and Army ROTC detachments has decreased slightly over this period, but because of the naval program’s gains, numbers are still up overall.

Holland attributed the jump in NROTC enrollment to the increasing availability of scholarships and to a trend of increased patriotism in the past several years.

He said that the program has been working with coaches to help student-athletes get credit for ROTC, which involves vigorous fitness training. Of the 10 Harvard first-years in NROTC this year, five are varsity athletes involved in a range of sports, from swimming to lacrosse.

The statistics appear to show a blossoming ROTC program for Harvard students, despite a lack of official University sponsorship.

Participants do not receive Harvard credit for their ROTC coursework, and the costs of the program are funded by a private trust run by Harvard alumni.

Despite the official distance between Harvard and ROTC, University President Lawrence H. Summers has been supportive of the program and of the participating students.

“I believe there is a special grace and a special nobility to those who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and the ultimate commitment to their country,” Summers said at a June 2002 ROTC commissioning ceremony.

Although the ceremony is held in Harvard Yard, Summers’ speech—which he repeated last June—was the first given given by a Harvard president at an ROTC commissioning event since the Faculty voted to ban the program from campus three decades ago.

Brown said that “whether the ROTC program is ‘official’ at a specific university does not really matter.”  

“As long as there is the opportunity to be a part of ROTC, as there is for Harvard students at MIT, that is all that really matters,” she said.

She said she looks forward to a military career after college.

“I find the opportunities a military officer receives, such as the leadership experience and deployments throughout the world, to be very exciting,” she said. “The integrity of the armed forces is unparalleled and I am proud to serve and defend my country.”