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ROTC: Making a Comeback

By Charles D. Bloche

April 10, 1969: In the stillness of an early spring dawn, hundreds of students gather sleepily outside University Hall, watching the building that protesters have occupied for nearly 17 hours. The crowd in the Yard swells as the sun begins to rise, and 500 students begin to chant. "Stop expansionism. ROTC must go."

It is 5:05 a.m. Inside the building about 200 students prepare for a police challenge. Anxious leaders recite instructions in passive resistance and distribute phone numbers of friendly lawyers, along with wet pieces of linen for protection against tear gas.

"Cops are coming!" somebody yells, 400 policement, clad in storm helmets and gas masks, armed with rifles and riot sticks, charge University Hall in systematic thrusts. State police drag bloodied protesters out of the building, where they will arrest nearly 300. "If you don't stay there I'll break your fuckin head," a cop shouts. Still the students chant. "Smash ROTC."

In the wake of the violent bust, the University gives in to many of the student demands that prompted the building takeover. At the start of the fall 1969 term, the Faculty votes by a two-to-one margin to deny academic credit for Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC courses, to end Corporation appointments of ROTC instructors, and to deny ROTC use of Harvard buildings. A few weeks later, the Department of Defense ends Harvard's ROTC program, the oldest in the country.

More than a decade after it was forced off campus, the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) is staging a comeback. Through cross-registration at MIT. 41 Harvard students are enrolled in the Army ROTC--a 65 per cent jump from last year--and 29 are in the Air Force program. And this week, on the 12th anniversary of the occupation of University Hall, some ROTC officials are confidently predicting that Harvard will have its own detachment again within six years.

Although this year's enrollment figures are particularly dramatic, ROTC has been growing steadily since the Faculty voted five years ago to allow cross-registration in the MIT program. Col. John S. Kark, professor of military science at MIT, says the number of Harvard students in ROTC is now enough to meet Army "viability standards" for a separate detachment. "We have more Harvard students [in the Army program] now than we did in the last several years of the Harvard detachment," he adds.

ROTC's gains are even more dramatic nationwide. From a low of 33.220 in 1974 in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Army ROTC enrollment rose last fall to 69,663. For the spring semester, officials put the number at more than 71,000.

The U.S. Army is eager to reinstate ROTC at Harvard, an Army spokesman in Washington, who asked to remain unidentified, said this week.

"Although we would like to have a working relationship with such a prestigious school," he said, the Army has not approached Harvard and is not likely to. "Since we were invited out, we'd rather wait to be invited back in," he said.

The Faculty legislation of 1969 defined ROTC as "an extra-curricular activity," but denied it the use of any University facilities. Currently, under a procedure established by a Faculty vote in 1976. Harvard students in ROTC cross-register at MIT for courses the University does not recognize for credit or on transcripts.

The cross-registration system is "inconvenient," because it forces students to commute between schools. Kark says, adding that the prohibitory Faculty legislation of 1969 "has fallen behind political trends." The Faculty vote is now "political history," the product of a "temporary rejection of the military" which followed the Vietnam War, he says.

"The premise that Harvard can avoid being involved in the military is simply not true, though some people would like to say that it is." Kark adds. "There is a fundamental disdain among a large number of academics for the military. But the military will not go away," he says.

In December, Kark challenged the 1969 Faculty legislation by requesting the use of a room on campus to tutor students who could not reach their MIT classes. But Harvard officials rejected what would have been the first formal military presence at the University since 1969.

John R. Marquand, secretary to the Faculty Council, says the 1969 ruling necessitated the refusal in December. "Legislation was scrutinized to see what the Faculty's response was to ROTC in the past," and no member of the council wanted to challenge the earlier decisions, Marquand adds.

Although Kark does not agree with the council's decision, he says he accepts it--"I understand their view. They think today we'd get a room, tomorrow a building, and the next day a parade."

Thomas Schelling, Littauer Professor of Political Economy, who criticized ROTC in Faculty debates 12 years ago, says the 1969 Faculty legislation represents an academic principle that should not depend on the fluctuating popularity of the armed forces.

The government should not have "a direct line" to students at a university, Schelling adds. "Obviously Harvard lives in the real world," he says, but "the idea is to minimize compromise with the real world, to preserve the idea of an ivory tower. Our service is to the culture, not to the national interest even when it's right."

But Stanley Hoffmann, Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France, who also argued against ROTC in 1969, now says "if some kind of loose association were to be proposed, it's possible that we could arrange something" between Harvard and ROTC.

The 1969 Faculty ruling was based on strong anti-war sentiment and on the student mood at the time. Hoffmann adds. Today, "the number of people who would be against ROTC on principle wouldn't be as large," he says, adding. "There must be a response to student demand, to student wishes."

To reestablish ROTC as a full department, a majority of the Faculty would have to vote to reverse its 1969 decision, which Marquand and other Faculty members say is unlikely. If the Army wanted to reintroduce ROTC without academic credit or departmental status, however, some kind of unit could be created without a full Faculty vote, Marquand says.

Although Kark believes Harvard students will demand and receive an independent ROTC detachment within the next six years, some other military recruiters say Harvard is still very hostile to the armed forces.

"The last holdout of ill-will towards the military is right here in this town and maybe at Berkeley." Major Steven I., Orton, assistant professor of aerospace studies at MIT's Air Force ROTC detachment, says, adding. "In this area nobody cares. If we went away they probably wouldn't notice."

Unlike Kark's Army detachment, which sends letters to all Harvard freshmen and sophomores. Orton's Air Force unit makes little effort to attract Harvard students. "We just don't think that it's worth the energy to go there," he says.

Navy ROTC, which was the largest of Harvard's three detachments in 1969, now has no Harvard students in its program, Lt. Commander Edward J. Welsh, the Navy's regional ROTC recruiter, says.

"We haven't spent a lot of time on Harvard," Welsh adds. "The majority of people at Harvard are looking for graduate school opportunities. We go once a year, but we don't even know if we'll keep doing that anymore," he says.

While Faculty legislation does not prevent military officials from recruiting on campus, almost all current enlistment efforts center on mailings and other forms of advertising.

Last week, for example, all Harvard male undergraduates received applications for the Marines' Platoon Leaders Program, a training course similar to ROTC.

The Marines' marketing agency, which spends about $2 million each year on such mailings, bought a list of the names and addresses of Harvard students from a firm specializing in such lists. Major Skip Kruger, who signed the letter, said last week.

Although Kruger said he receives a lot of "hate mail" in response to the letters, he believes they succeed in helping to provide the marines with the 2000 men they need annually.

Harvard usually provides three or four officers trainees for the Marines each year. Captain James Burke, the service's recruiting chief in Boston, says, adding that he requests mailings to Harvard each year, because it has students who can usually pass the Marines' SAT-type officer qualification test.

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