Faust Expected To Criticize ROTC

University presidents spend hours each spring refining their remarks for graduation day. And while Harvard’s Drew G. Faust is no exception, her most closely watched speech comes one day early.

On Wednesday morning, Faust will address the graduating members of Harvard’s Reserve Officer Training Corps in Tercentenary Theatre, and her pledge to use the speech to criticize the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which bars openly gay individual from serving in the armed forces, has already drawn fire from conservative and pro-military groups across the country.

But despite public pressure from some, including an op-ed last month in The Wall Street Journal, Faust said in a phone interview on Friday that she still intends to criticize the policy during her speech.

“I have deep respect for these students and I want to express my respect for them,” said Faust, who has noted that she is in part a military historian. “But I also want to make clear that I wish all students had the same opportunity, the same right to serve.”

Some Harvard ROTC alumni and cadets have criticized Faust’s decision to address the issue, saying the event should only focus on the students being commissioned.

“This is not a political event, it is a military one,” said Paul E. Mawn ’63, the chairman of Advocates for Harvard ROTC. “The focus should be on the future second lieutenants and midshipmen.”

Faust’s decision to criticize “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is only the latest chapter in the long saga of strained relations between Harvard and the ROTC.

Following student demonstrations against the Vietnam War in 1969, administrators banned ROTC from campus. (Harvard students have participated in ROTC through MIT since the early 1970s.)

And though the passions of Vietnam have since subsided, the military’s policy of discriminating based on sexual orientation has made ROTC a lightning
rod for criticism because it conflicts with the University’s non-discrimination policy.

Just last week, four Harvard undergraduates were arrested in Maine for staging a protest against the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy at a recruiting station. Harvard Divinity School student Jacob Reitan was arrested at a military recruiting station in New York City this week too. Both events were part of a “Right To Serve” Tour organized by Harvard students.

The decision to criticize “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has drawn praise from students and alumni who believe raising the issue Tuesday is a moral imperative.

Jarret A. Zafran ’09, president of the Harvard College Democrats, called the policy “the greatest form of governmentsanctioned 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,” said Zafran, who collaborated with his Republican counterparts in April on an Undergraduate Council resolution designed to increase recognition for ROTC.

With all the contention, Faust can expect close scrutiny on Tuesday. But when pressed for further details of her address, Faust declined to elaborate.

“Wait to see what the speech sounds like,” she said.

—Staff writer Clifford M. Marks can be reached at cmarks@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Kevin Zhou can be reached at kzhou@fas.harvard.edu.