When Lawrence H. Summers served as president, he addressed the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) commissioning ceremony each year to voice his support for Harvard’s future military men and women.
This year, University President Drew G. Faust will follow in his footsteps by attending the commissioning ceremony on June 4, but she will also use the venue to speak out against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that currently prevents openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving in the military.
In an interview last week, Faust said that while she had not yet written her speech, she planned to say that she hoped “every Harvard student had the opportunity to serve in the military.”
“That’s a choice that should not be available only to a segment of the student population,” she added.
Faust said that she would invoke the past to demonstrate the important relationship between military service and citizens’ rights.
“I think here about the ways in which military service and full citizenship have been so closely aligned, and as a civil war historian in particular, I think about what military service meant to African Americans,” she said. “And I think we see another issue here with another segment of the population that’s been told they cannot participate in the military, and that’s a badge of degradation or second-class citizenship.”
Harvard and ROTC have had a frosty relationship since 1969 when ROTC was banned from campus after student demonstrations against the Vietnam War. ROTC continues to be a lightning rod for criticism because the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy conflicts with the University’s commitment not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
But many individuals said they did not believe the ROTC commissioning ceremony to be an appropriate forum for making political statements against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Joseph M. Kristol ’09, a Marine midshipman, said that the ceremony should only focus on celebrating the achievements of students who have completed their training.
“It’s just a happy, joyous occasion, so the idea that a speech would radicalize the event is unnecessary,” he said. “If it’s going to be political, I think everyone would be happier having someone else speak.”
Paul E. Mawn ’63, who is the chairman of Advocates for Harvard ROTC, commended Faust for appearing at the commissioning ceremony, but added that the University should make a distinction between the students and the political issue.
“It’s an appropriate venue for the president of Harvard to recognize graduates who are going to serve their country, many of them in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s not appropriate to talk politics at a military service.”
Other students voiced their support for Faust’s intention to take a stand against the policy.
Jarret A. Zafran ’09, president of the Harvard College Democrats, called the policy “the greatest form of government-sanctioned discrimination left in America.”
“For the Harvard University president to speak to them and neglect to mention that the program is in violation of our anti-discrimination code would be a great omission and a real shame,” he said.
Last year, neither president-elect Faust nor then-interim President Derek C. Bok—an Army veteran—attended the commissioning ceremony, and their absence spurred criticism from some student groups and from the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.
An editorial in the Journal had stated that ROTC had been “spurned by the school’s administration” and that their “honor and service deserve better from their academic tutors.”
—Paras D. Bhayani, Clifford M. Marks, and Nathan C. Strauss contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Athena Y. Jiang can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Kevin Zhou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.