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Recognized, Not Respected

Two weeks ago, Harvard President Drew Faust traveled to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to give the inaugural Zengerle Family Lecture. Extolling the virtues of a liberal arts education, Faust praised West Point, one of the few colleges in the country (Harvard among them) that continues to promote the humanities. She concluded the speech by saying to the cadets, “I wish there were more of you.”

President Faust was applauded for her visit, particularly on Harvard’s social media accounts, but as a senior at Harvard and an Army ROTC cadet, I was less impressed. While President Faust was quick to reach out to those at West Point, she has been frustratingly slow to respond to the cadets and midshipmen on her own campus. Although Faust deserves much credit for welcoming ROTC back on campus after a 42-year absence—a bold and decisive move—she seems to have quickly forgotten about the cadets and midshipmen who call Harvard home. And whereas her visit to West Point might have been a good faith effort to strengthen relations between the military and Harvard, there is ample room for improvement right here in Cambridge.

Today, there are only 23 cadets and midshipmen who form the ranks of Harvard ROTC, representing just 0.34 percent of the student body. This number has not increased with the recognition of ROTC at Harvard five years ago, suggesting that the change was merely symbolic. Moreover, with a relatively large graduating class of cadets, it looks like Harvard’s ROTC community will shrink in the coming years. This stands in stark contrast to Yale ROTC, which reestablished its program in 2012 and has since seen the program grow from zero cadets and midshipmen to more than 70. After reinstatement, Yale’s administration made ROTC a priority on its campus, by adopting policies to increase the number of students recruited and retained by the ROTC program. Yale has proven itself to be a leader in ways that Harvard has not.

On Memorial Day last year, the Harvard Veterans Organization, in partnership with the Harvard ROTC Association, presented the administration with a comprehensive report of the state of the military at Harvard, including recommendations for increasing the number of cadets and midshipmen at the College. These recommendations include granting course credit for required ROTC classes—a policy adopted by all but one other ROTC program in the country—and making a student’s commitment to ROTC an admissions consideration, just like a commitment to a varsity sports team.

However, despite the fact that relatively minor changes could increase the ROTC population at Harvard by making ROTC participation less time consuming and more feasible for a greater number of students, President Faust has remained silent on the issue. While I doubt that she holds any ill will towards ROTC or the military, it is clear that we are simply not a priority. If President Faust were to give the cadets and midshipmen here on our own campus just a fraction of the time that she spent with cadets at another school, I truly believe we could resolve the issues impeding the growth of our program.

The title of President Faust’s speech at West Point, “To be a Speaker of Words and a Doer of Deeds: Literature and Leadership,” seems ironic. On many occasions, President Faust has voiced support for the presence of the military and ROTC on campus; however, I have personally observed very little action. Indeed, while I am grateful for her efforts to return ROTC to Harvard, it often feels as though that return has been in name alone. President Faust’s suggestion in her speech that we need more military leaders with liberal arts educations adds insult to four years of injury. She urged our peers at the Military Academy to “Lead on behalf of each other. Lead on behalf of the nation.” Many Harvard students, however, are also ready to answer this call to serve. We hope that one day President Faust will be ready to lead on behalf of us.


Charley Falletta ’16 is a Government concentrator living in Quincy House.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Harvard’s ROTC program, the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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