Ending a 40-year standoff between Harvard and the military that began with the Vietnam War and culminated in the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” University President Drew G. Faust signed an agreement Friday with Navy Secretary Ray E. Mabus formally recognizing the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps on Harvard’s campus.
“Our renewed relationship affirms the vital role that the members of the armed forces play in serving the nation and securing our freedoms,” Faust said at the signing ceremony Friday.
The agreement to recognize NROTC—which comes on the heels of Congress’ December repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military policy which banned gays and lesbians from openly serving the military—will go into effect when the policy’s repeal is implemented later this year. The University previously did not recognize ROTC because it said that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” violated its non-discrimination policy.
Speaking before a bank of television cameras and around two dozen Navy sailors and Marines in dress uniform, Faust said that she had “looked forward to this day with anticipation and pride.”
Since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, Faust and other University officials have been in discussions with the Pentagon about bringing the program back to campus.
“It underscores the importance that all of us place on opportunity and inclusion—on opening pathways for students to pursue their ambitions, to cultivate their capacity for leadership, to lead lives of value to others,” Faust said.
The University is currently in discussions with the other services about resuming official relations, Faust added.
While Friday’s agreement only grants formal recognition to NROTC, the decision is of significant symbolic importance and represents a drastic departure from the often antagonistic relationship that has existed in the past between elite U.S. universities and the American military.
But tensions remain as some consider Friday’s agreement to be discriminatory.
Outside the signing ceremony in Loeb House, protesters picketed the event in support of gender equality. Some opponents of ROTC’s return to Harvard contend that the move is in violation of the University’s non-discrimination policy given that trans-identified and intersex individuals are not allowed to serve in the military.
With Friday’s agreement, a director of NROTC will be appointed at Harvard, and the University will provide funding for the full cost of students’ participation in the program.
“It is wonderful news. It’s a huge step forward, not just for the military and for Harvard, but for the country,” said Seth W. Moulton ’01, a retired Marine captain. “We shouldn’t have elite institutions removed from those who serve our country.”
The recognition will also allow midshipmen to use Harvard facilities for physical training and to take Harvard transportation to MIT.
Although ROTC will be officially recognized, a unit will not necessarily be established on campus, and Harvard cadets will continue to train at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The University is unlikely to establish a unit at Harvard until there is a sufficient amount of interest among students.
Currently, only 20 students are enrolled in ROTC.