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ROTC Slips Through the Backdoor


By Gay Seidman

Charles DePriest '77 has always wanted to be an air force flight surgeon. He said yesterday he hopes to be on the first flight to Mars, but failing that, he'll be happy with a regular flight surgeon's position.

In order to join the air force medical corps, however, DePriest had to enter a Reserve Officer Training Corps program. When he applied here, he says, he was told Harvard would have an ROTC program within two years. But until this winter, the University would have nothing to do with the armed forces.

Several students have taken non-credit ROTC courses at other colleges since the legislation barring ROTC from campus passed in 1969, but none has been allowed to enroll in the program at the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT). Harvard students can't register as special students at MIT because of the cross-registration restrictions between the two schools, and so weren't allowed into the program.

DePriest has spent the last year lobbying to get the ban on MIT's ROTC program lifted. The anti-ROTC mood of the '60's was just a fad that's died away, he says. There has always been a military, and it is likely to remain, he adds.

The larger issue of Harvard's relation to the military was not really considered during the Faculty's recent debates on ROTC. Most Faculty members seemed to consider it a question of how much the University can interfere in students' extra-curricular activities--an interference many of them consider a kind of moral imperialism.

If more students decide to enlist in ROTC programs than MIT will accept, Dean Rosovsky said this week, the issue will have to be reconsidered. For now, he said, the matter is more or less in abeyance, because there do not appear to be many students who really want to take ROTC courses.

But DePriest and Steven Peck '79, another student who told the administration he wants to enroll in ROTC, say they know several people who may join. The army and the air force both offer full scholarships, book and lab fees and a $100 monthly allowance, that many students find attractive, DePriest said. In return, however, students have to go on four years' active duty after graduation.

Several Faculty members have said recently they think Harvard graduates could exert a leavening influence on the military. Francis M. Pipkin, associate dean of the Faculty for the Colleges who proposed the new resolution, said at the meeting he believes it better that there be "some of us amongst them" than to be totally alienated from the military.

But DePriest, who took basic training last summer and who received provisional permission last fall to join ROTC, said he believes that influence is likely to be slight.

"There are three million people in the armed services," DePriest said. "How are one or two people going to temper three million?"

For both Peck and DePriest, the army seems a response to economic pressure as well as patriotism. DePriest, at least, does not seem to be worried about the possibility of future wars.

"I guess I'd have to go," he said. "I only hope it's as a doctor."

And if he didn't agree with the war? "I'd still have to go," DePriest said. "I'd consider myself a victim of circumstance. But what's the point in playing 'what if' games?"

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