Bok Stays Quiet On ROTC

One commencement ago the reinstatement of a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Program at Harvard seemed to be a distinct possibility. President Bok told alumni in a June 13th speech last year that he did not believe "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 standards."

After Bok's surprise statement--his first public discussion of the ROTC issue as Harvard president--and the enthusiastic support of the alumni, students from the left and the right vowed to resolve the issue once and for all by petitioning for a University-wide referendum to reach a definitive position on whether or not Harvard should maintain an ROTC unit.

In the fall of 1973, the New American Movement (NAM), a radical organization, gathered 2500 signatures on a petition calling for an undergraduate referendum on the issue of ROTC. But plans for a referendum faltered as the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life (CHUL) refused in October to sponsor the referendum explaining that the faculty had no plans to debate the issue. Bok and Dean Rosovsky both made statements in the fall making it perfectly plain that they did not want to take on the same forces that drove ROTC from its Harvard base in the spring of 1969.

The Faculty voted overwhelmingly in April 1969 to deny ROTC the privileges of regular Harvard programs. And it seemed then that the issue was closed and ROTC was gone for good.

But in March 1969, President Emeritus Nathan M. Pusey decided to defy the Faculty's vote. The Corporation will "do everything possible to keep ROTC," Pusey announced at that time. The result: one building occupation, 250 arrests, scores of injuries and a heightened polarization between liberal Faculty and students on the one hand and the Corporation and Administration on the other.


It is logical that Bok and Rosovsky did not want to resurrect the ROTC issue during the 1973-74 academic year because the events of 1969 were too vivid in their memories. CHUL did not want to take action because it also feared the consequences of opening a wound that had just begun to heal.

So the issue of ROTC's return was never decisively resolved one way or the other in 1973-74. It just fizzled out as every issue seems to be doing in this post-strike age.