Poll Results Favor ROTC Recognition

According to the results of a poll conducted last week of more than 1,700 Harvard undergraduates, nearly 62 percent of respondents support the official recognition of the Reserve Officer Training Corps as a fully supported student organization by the University—a move that would reverse a 40 year-old Harvard policy.

The poll—sponsored by the Harvard Republican Club—reflects the opinions of roughly a quarter of Harvard’s undergraduate population, and cuts across all bands of the political spectrum: 54 percent of respondent self-reported as Democrats, while 19 percent identified as Republicans and 27 percent as independents.

Official recognition for ROTC could help facilitate transfer of course credit for ROTC classes taken at MIT, allow financial support from Harvard for cross-registration, and mean the removal of language in the student handbook that says military and ROTC policies excluding openly gay people are “inconsistent with Harvard’s values.”

Although Colin J. Motley ’10, president of the HRC, said that the poll was certainly vulnerable to some “self-selection bias,” he said it remained a valid barometer for the campus’ sentiments.

“It shows that faculty opinion is really out of touch with student opinion, but more importantly it shows student support for the cadets and midshipmen,” Motley said.

Shawna L. Sinnott ’10, a Marine ROTC midshipman, said she believed the results showed that the current generation is better able to distinguish individual ROTC members from the political issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—the controversial policy that bars openly gay individuals from serving in the armed forces.

“Just the fact that it was being discussed was a big step, more so that they were engaging intellectually,” Sinnott said. “I think a lot of us have felt that we’ve had a lot of individual support from students throughout our time here at Harvard, but it always seems like the public eye is against us.”

The HRC poll follows a week-long campaign in April to gain recognition for ROTC on campus, with Motley noting that a similar poll on Columbia’s campus led to full-scale dialogue between students and faculty members on the policy.

But critics of the poll said that none of the advocates of ROTC’s recognition have made public gestures to fully address the issue of non-discrimination and officially condemn the DADT policy, saying that without openly condemning DADT, only one side of the issue is actually being examined.

“I think they’re conflating their political objective with the opinion of the student body,” said Queer Students and Allies Co-Chair Marco Chan ’11, who nonetheless praised the actual exercise of the poll as a valuable means of promoting discussion.

Motley said that the policy’s exclusion from the GOP platform has prohibited the HRC from taking an official position on DADT, while Sinnott said that ROTC cadets find themselves bound by military free speech policies that require them to be “apolitical.”

The University’s current position on ROTC was first established in 1969 in response to the storming of University Hall by students protesting the Vietnam War.

The University now does not recognize ROTC because of the military’s DADT policy, which the University says is in conflict with its anti-discrimination policy.

—Staff writer Edward-Michael Dussom can be reached at emdussom@fas.harvard.edu