Barriers Remain For ROTC Return

Earlier this week University President Drew G. Faust made her strongest overture yet to the possibility that the Reserve Officer Training Corps might return to Harvard if the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy ends as expected. But despite her recent remarks, the unit’s return to campus remains highly uncertain due to low levels of enrollment, limited Pentagon funding, and logistical hurdles.

Chief among the obstacles is the small size of the corps at Harvard. The number of students enrolled in ROTC would likely have to increase to justify the installation of a campus unit, said Retired Captain Paul E. Mawn ’63, chairman of the Advocates for Harvard ROTC.

The University would have to expand its military science and course offerings and may have to hire additional faculty but would not have to grant Harvard credit for those courses. Cadets currently take most of their classes at MIT for no Harvard credit.

Faust raised the prospect of ROTC’s return in remarks earlier this week when she said that “a ROTC program open to all ought to be fully and formally present on our campus.”

If ROTC were officially recognized, it would reduce the administrative hurdles that cadets currently have to navigate and would mark an important symbolic gesture toward the military, Faust said in an interview yesterday. Exactly how the University would structure the program is something that would need to be worked out with the military, she said.

“I think what’s important is that we signal that ROTC and service in the military is something we want to be available to all our students,” she added. “We don’t want to raise any additional hurdles for them by making it inconvenient and a choice that is scrutinized.”

The military currently does not allow gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military under the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”  which the University considers a violation of its anti-discrimination policy.

Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this week in a speech at the Institute of Politics that he would do everything within his power to see an ROTC unit established at Harvard.

Captain John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the admiral, said yesterday that Mullen “is willing to lend both his influence and his leadership to the effort of exploring a greater ROTC presence across the country, but particularly in those places where we are under-represented demographically.”

“Harvard, a superb institution rich in military tradition and located in a part of the country from which we do not recruit a great majority of people, certainly qualifies as a place we’d like to see a unit established,” Kirby continued.

But Mawn said that because of budgetary constraints, the Pentagon may not be eager to add ROTC campuses in the future.

In order to attract a critical mass of students to ROTC, the school would need to take a proactive approach to recruit prospective ROTC applicants and to encourage students to pursue military opportunities, Mawn said. The University would also need to rethink its admissions priorities to attract more students interested in ROTC, he added.

“I welcome what she says. I think she’s earnest. But it’s not just one issue,” Mawn said, referring to Faust’s public comments on ROTC, which came as she introduced Mullen. “Certain factions in [the Faculty of Arts and Sciences] will come up with half a dozen other reasons not to encourage ROTC to return.”

Harvard ROTC cadets currently drill and attend classes at MIT along with students from a number of other local colleges. Cadets and midshipmen have said in the past that the lack of formal recognition by the University has contributed to a sense of marginalization on campus.

In an interview yesterday, Faust said that she thinks the Faculty’s concern about the military, which contributed to ROTC’s departure in 1969, has largely dissipated. She added that she believes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would smooth over lingering opposition to the military’s presence on campus.

Tags