ROTC Makes A Stormy Exit

LAST FALL Harvard's political Left and Right mobilized their constituencies around an issue that the Faculty had presumably resolved four years earlier. The issue--whether Harvard should maintain units of the Reserve Officers Training Corps--had been resurrected on the heels of the previous semester when only a few students were present on campus. At that time President Bok, speaking before alumni gathered in balmy Cambridge to observe the annual Commencement rites, said: "I do not believe that our record and our conscience can be fully clear until we manifest our willingness to entertain an ROTC program on terms compatible with our usual institutional standards."

Bok's surprise statement and the enthusiastic support it received from alumni led to immediate speculation that he had plans to urge the Faculty to reconsider ROTC. But a month later Bok said he had no such plans. "I would like to feel sure we had made an unbiased judgment," he said. "But I have no strong motivation to get it back. I don't know if enough students are interested to warrant bringing it up, and if no one on the Faculty wants to discuss it, I'm not going to push them."

So last fall 2500 students signed a New American Movement-sponsored petition asking the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life to sponsor a referendum on the ROTC question. The CHUL subsequently rejected that request--unanimously. No one answered a Harvard Republican Club call for people interested in joining a new ROTC program. The issue fizzled.

But the present status of ROTC on campus--no ROTC whatsoever--was not attained by a quiet faze-out. While ROTC had led a quiet existence at Harvard since 1916, by 1969 it had become a major issue, one which led to the largest student strike in Harvard history.

The drive to change ROTC's status in the University began in the fall of '68 when countless committees began to debate the merits of academically- accredited Reserve Officer Training Corps units. In early October the Harvard Undergraduate Council (HUC) proposed a plan for curtailing ROTC's privileges, including the removal of academic credit from all ROTC courses. But the resolution had no formal influence, so the faculty-less HUC began to work toward placing the issue on the Faculty docket. Edward T. Wilcox, director of General Education, offered to introduce the HUC resolution to the Faculty.


Although HUC members wanted to secure a spot for their resolution on the docket primarily as an effort to establish a precedent of regular Faculty consideration of similar student-initiated resolutions, they also wanted to form a united front of student government groups against a credited ROTC program. The HUC appeared before the Student-Faculty Advisory Committee (SFAC), and that appearance prompted two other groups--the Council for Educational Policy (CEP) and the Harvard-Radcliffe Policy Committee (HRPC)--to debate the ROTC issue.

The CEP held quiet court but failed to produce any conclusions based upon its hearings into the matter. In early November, however, the HRPC called for the abolition of ROTC's academic status.

While the HRPC and HUC recommendations were similar in their conclusions, they attacked ROTC from different premises. The HUC claimed that ROTC courses did not meet Harvard's standard academic criteria: that their content was flabby. HRPC contended that ROTC courses that it demanded of all other academic courses, and since ROTC courses had pre-professional orientations aimed at producing officers, the HRPC argued that ROTC courses should be removed from Harvard's liberal arts curriculum.

Near the end of November, the SFAC considered the first of the proposals that dealt with ROTC, the one that had been formulated by SDS--total expulsion of the program. That motion was easily defeated. The SDS position was that Harvard, for moral and political reasons, should refuse to allow ROTC on campus in any form. SDS, like the other organizations, lacked a formal vehicle to bring its proposals before the Faculty. But on November 20, the organization announced that Hilary Putnam, professor of Philosophy, would present its case for total expulsion.

One week before the Faculty was scheduled to consider ROTC, the SFAC presented its resolution, an amalgamation of the HUC and HRPC proposals. The resolution--to be offered to the Faculty by Rogers Albritton, professor of Philosophy--put forth a five-point plan for ending ROTC's academic status:

Denying academic credit to ROTC courses;

Removing appointments from the instructors;

Excising ROTC descriptions from the catalogues;

Ending rent-free building use; and,

Giving Harvard scholarship money to any students who might lose their ROTC scholarships because of ROTC's changed status.

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