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The Case for ROTC at Harvard


(The following is a memo submitted to the Committee on Educational Policy on Dec. 4, 1968 by Col. Robert H. Pell, professor of Military Science.)

Q. What adverse effect is ROTC having upon the Harvard faculty and student body at this time?

A. To my knowledge, the Harvard anti-ROTC debate has produced no real evidence that ROTC has ever had any adverse effect upon the Harvard faculty or student body. Compliance with the law of the land, honest service to the nation, and respect for the orderly processes of government are not viewed as debilitating. There is nothing insidious or evil about the ROTC program. Very few college educated men are known to have finished their experience as ROTC cadet and officer-leader without a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. The few dissidents found among the college educated men who do fulfill their military obligation--a small minority of all graduates--are almost invariably those who served as privates, bitterly and begrudgingly, because they chose not to accept responsibility or weren't good enough to serve as officers.

Most employers of large numbers of college graduates (and most graduate and law school admission officers) state that they prefer ROTC graduates when considering applicants of otherwise equal qualifications. They find that the man with officer training and active military service generally is more mature, has had more leadership and management experience and is more capable of accepting responsibility than men hired directly out of college. Nationwide, less than five per cent of eligible college students take Army ROTC. (At Harvard the number who take ROTC is less than one-half of one per cent of the college enrollment.) Yet out of this five per cent comes 10 per cent of our Congressmen, 15 per cent of our ambassadors, 24 per cent of our state governors and 28 per cent of business leaders earning over $100,000 per year.

The Harvard ROTC units reflect this selectivity and high quality in their enrollment. For those who like to measure in terms of scholarship awards, there are 47 Phi Beta Kappas in the Army ROTC program now and five Rhodes Scholars have been in the program in the course of the past three years. In terms of military leadership performance, Harvard cadets set an all-time record at this year's Regular ROTC summer camp. Out of 29 cadets who completed the camp successfully (three were eliminated for physical reasons) 16 won honors (top 10 per cent) by being selected as Distinguished Military Students. Harvard men are standing at the head of their classes in Army Basic Officer Schools as they enter upon active duty, too.

None of this would be possible without a viable Army ROTC unit on the Harvard campus. Harvard men would not have this opportunity to serve their country's armed forces with honor and distinction, as commissioned officers, in the tradition of Harvard excellence. Harvard as an institution would not be able to uphold its proud reputation for supplying its share of leadership to the broad spectrum of our national institutions.

If ROTC has had any adverse effect upon Harvard faculty members it would have to be of their own choosing. If at all, ill effects would seem most likely to stem from the disappointment and chagrin faculty members might feel when impressionable, idealistic young Americans within their sphere of influence are observed to throw away their citizenship and ruin their lives by fleeing the country to avoid the draft. Harvard suffered some very bad national publicity--completely unwarranted and undeserved in my judgment--a few months ago when it was made to appear that a majority of Harvard men would take the draft laws into their own hands. Equally disturbing must be the knowledge that there are brilliant young Harvard men with God-given leadership abilities who seem content to waste two years of their life by allowing themselves to be drafted as a private.

Insofar as faculty members might have suffered because the presence of ROTC at Harvard violated their moral sensitivity or violated their conception of the rules of academic freedom, little is known. Categorically there is believed to be little suffering on the part of anyone at Harvard. Most faculty members appear to be oblivious to ROTC, with little concern one way or the other for the handful of students and ROTC instructors who are alleged to be taking advantage of the institution.

Q. Why is ROTC under attack at Harvard now?

A. ROTC is under attack at Harvard now because a small group of student extremists--a tiny minority of the student body--have played upon the inherent anti-war sentiment shared by a majority of peace-loving, traditionally isolationist Americans. The Vietnam war, grievous to virtually all of us, is the immediate source of their blanket denunciation of everything related to the military. They offer no alternatives when they propose destruction of the nation's armed forces. (Let it be understood beyond question that there is at present no acceptable alternate source of junior officer leadership if ROTC is driven from the college campus.) The radicals' reasons for wanting to destroy ROTC are patently contrived because they are exactly the same reasons that existed without challenge for 50 years before Vietnam clouded our vision and robbed our logic.

The anti-ROTC arguments in the excellent study done by the Harvard-Radcliffe Policy Committee are imminently logical when evaluated in the narrow terms of academic freedom. The arguments of the anti-war, moralist group are even less practical and convincing in terms of the real-life world. Both arguments deal mostly with technicalities from a very narrow point of view rather than with the hard realities of life and the broad spectrum of our national existence.

When pinned down, none of the radicals and their sympathizers will admit that the nation, in the presence of ruthless enemies, can afford to disband its armed forces. But the question of who is to man the armed forces is left unanswered. The traditional precept of a broad-based citizen-soldier army, with the dangers and sacrifices of military duty shared equally by all able-bodied men, is conveniently forgotten. There is no hue and cry to make the draft laws fair and equitable or to provide an acceptable substitute for ROTC, if indeed a substitute can be found.

How, in the presence of these facts, can there be any rational support for the destruction of ROTC? Surely there is some doubt that a gambit in the guise of academic freedom in the liberal arts milieu should not be allowed to destroy an important institution in our society without a reasonable alternative.

Q. To what extent is ROTC under attack on other college campuses?

A. Demonstrations and acts of vandalism against ROTC on a few college campuses have been so widely publicized as to leave the general impression that most of the 343 schools with Army, Navy or Air Force ROTC are embattled. Such is not the case. Serious incidents have occurred at the University of California at Berkeley, the universities of Washington, Delaware, Florida Southern, Wisconsin, and Fordham, in addition to the travesty at Boston University.

As one would expect, the worst conditions resulted when faculty members joined forces with radical student groups. Nationwide, only 20 incidents of all types were reported at the 262 Army ROTC schools in School Year 1967. There were 30 in SY 68, and more are expected in SY 69, including the action to discredit ROTC at Harvard.

There have been some dramatic turn-abouts in the campus debates on ROTC. Fordham University provides an interesting example of how faculty support for an anarchist student group could cause ROTC freshman enrollment there to drop from a normal level of 274 in 1966 to an all-time low of 70 in 1967. This year, however, an aroused Fordham faculty so changed the climate for ROTC as to cause a 50 per cent increase in freshman enrollment at a time when enrollment was down an average of 24 per cent across the country. Further, as a matter of interest, the Fordham faculty is now contemplating the award of academic credit for ROTC, reversing a policy which caused Fordham to be one of only four Army ROTC Schools in the nation which had never granted academic credit for ROTC.

Contrast the Fordham experience with the vicious attacks at Boston University which caused this year's freshman enrollment in Army ROTC to drop 58 per cent, one of the largest losses in the nation. As a matter of interest, Harvard's freshman enrollment in Army ROTC dropped 37 per cent this year, also more than the national average; but the loss was more than compensated by a record-shattering gain of 308 per cent in Military Science III enrollment--largely students from the Harvard Law School.

Q. What alternatives are available if the ROTC program is discredited or driven completely from the college campus?

A. There is no acceptable program in existence at this time to substitute for ROTC as a broad-based source of college educated citizen-soldier leaders for our armed forces. About 45 per cent of all Army officers curently on active duty are ROTC graduates; 65 per cent of our 1st lieutenants and 85 per cent of our 2nd lieutenants come from the ROTC program. The Army ROTC needs 18,000 new 2nd lieutenants each year to meet normal attrition. We met that goal last year and expect to meet it again this year. For some years before that, we had serious shortfalls. There is little question that the current wave of anti-ROTC sentiment, unless reversed by exemplary action on the part of ROTC host institutions, will have serious impact upon ROTC production figures in the immediate future.

The anti-ROTC extremists apparently do not accept the criticality of ROTC to our defense establishment. They persist in the notion that the armed forces will continue to exist and perform their functions, somehow, without ROTC. The blunt truth is that Officer Candidate School (OCS) programs are not attractive to college graduates unless there is extreme pressure from the draft. One reason is obvious: the Army OCS volunteer must serve a three year tour of active duty, not two years as in the case of the ROTC graduate or the college graduate drafted into the Army as a private.

What about officer training programs such as the US Marine Corps' Platoon Leader Program which requires no on-campus training for college students? That program is not popular because it requires two summer training camps instead of one, plus three years of active duty. College men are increasingly reluctant to give more than one summer of their college years to officer training.

An OCS program catering to high school graduates and college dropouts as a primary source of junior officers for the Army Officer Corps is unthinkable. The armed forces simply cannot function--nor should they be expected to function in our complex society--without an officer corps comprised largely of college graduates, just as most of our national institutions these days rely upon college educated men for their leadership. Who is prepared to trust their sons--let alone the nation's destiny--to the leadership of high school boys and college drop-outs? Only the grossly uninformed or narrowly bigoted critic could fail to comprehend that the armed forces have a perfectly valid need for a fair share of the time and talents of the young Americans who have been blessed with a college education.

Q. What will be the effect if the various changes in Harvard ROTC programs being recommended for faculty action are approved?

A. Neither the heads of Harvard's ROTC departments nor military officers in any intervening headquarters short of the Pentagon have any authority to determine a reaction to changes in the ROTC programs which might be voted by the Harvard faculty. It is almost literally true that the negotiation of terms for ROTC units to be present on host institution compuses is handled by the civilian heads of the military departments. Just how far the Secretary of the Army, Mr. Resor, will allow institutions to go on eroding and vitiating Army ROTC programs on their campuses is open to conjecture. Although the mood of the three military departments is described as conciliatory and reasonable, there are certain limits clear to all with any knowledge of the situation, beyond which the civilian secretaries cannot be expected to go.


In the matter of faculty status for service officers assigned to ROTC duty, this is a requirement of law. It follows that no one in the Department of Defense could possibly have the authority to waive that requirement. The Congress could change the law, of course, but the purpose of the provision in the first instance--insuring a respectable position and status for the ROTC program on every college campus, insuring that the program is not categorized as a college game--would be sacrificed. Is such a change necessary or desirable from the viewpoint of the military departments? It is extremely doubtful that the question would become a vital issue on more than a few college campuses.

The Army began last year to grant contracts for new Senior ROTC units to 15 selected colleges and universities each year. The first group of institutions included such schools as Brigham Young University, St. John's University of New York and other imminently respectable institutions. There are reported to be about 150 institutions of higher learning still on the Army's waiting list, each eager and willing to accept the contract terms which have prevailed for 50 years. Combined with low officer production and other reasons, this access to other college campuses might cause the Army to withdraw from some of the old prestige schools, however reluctantly.


In the matter of withdrawal of physical support--classrooms and administrative offices--by the institution, it seems quite clear that no military department could continue to operate a unit under such circumstances.


With regard to academic credit, the services are all known to be most anxious to retain academic credit as a mark of prestige and a matter of ultimate inducement in attracting young men to the ROTC programs. All services are known to be most eager to "up-grade" their curricula to satisfy the demand for "college-level" subjects. All services have some flexibility in this regard and are anxious to work with host institutions in search of agreeable compromise ground. The ability to do this varies among the services, however, largely because the Army is wedded--for better of for worse--to a two-year active duty obligation. Without being grossly imprudent personnel managers, we cannot afford to take six months out of the two years--25 per cent of the ROTC graduates' productive time in service -- to teach him the military skills which he must know in order to be an effective officer. With a three or four year active duty obligation to work with, our sister services can afford to teach their "officers" what is required to be an officer after they come on active duty.

Thus, short of a miraculous remedy that no one has been able to identify thus far, the Army must continue to teach some military skills while the officer candidate is still in college. Also, we are convinced from bountiful experience that we must conduct some kind of meaningful military training in the on-campus ROTC program in order to observe our students enough to make critical judgments about their leadership potential and aptitude for military service, hence their worthiness for a commission.

How the Army is ever going to disguise the purely military subjects in its curricula (there are two curricula in existence now and a third under development) to nullify the severe academicians who demand social science type subjects for officer training, is a problem of impressive magnitude. Personally, I am convinced that the problem cannot be solved completely without vitiating the Army ROTC program as it is now conceived. At the same time, I am convinced that there is sufficient validity in the Army's current Modified Curriculum, when evaluated intoto, to meet the academician's demand for college-level subject matter and to justify, therefore the granting of reasonable academic credit. My views on this subject are set forth in greater detail in a position paper I prepared for the anti-ROTC factions on 4 October 1968.

In summary, I believe that the withdrawing of all academic credit for

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