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TWENTY years ago, in the midst of the Vietnam War, Harvard students drove the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) off campus. Last Sunday, the Undergraduate Council passed a resolution asking Harvard to invite ROTC back without academic credit.
The war may be over, but ROTC should not return ever, under any circumstances.
The opposition to the resolution has centered upon the anti-gay discriminatory policies of ROTC. But even if ROTC accepted gays, the case to bring it back fails. ROTC would not just be another extracurricular activity; establishing a chapter on campus would compromise Harvard's academic integrity.
ROTC--like the United States military--has a well-defined policy of institutionalized discrimination against gays and lesbians. Gays are explicitly forbidden from participating in ROTC, and are regularly discharged from the armed services if they proclaim their sexual orientation. Several witnesses have stated that during a summer orientation session, one MIT recruit with an earring was forced to stand outside and yell "I am a faggot" for several hours.
This discrimination is alone enough to disqualify ROTC from both support of the University and the endorsement of the council. Both have explicit policies against abetting discrimination on grounds of gender or sexual orientation.
Morally, the question is cut and dried. If gays and lesbians are to be acknowledged as equal members of society, they must be treated equally by the government. And if they are to be equal members of the student body, they cannot be barred from activities because of their sexual orientation.
The proponents of the pro-ROTC resolution respond that it is less a question of homophobia than a question of fairness. They argue that students should be free to participate in whatever extracurricular activities they choose.
We unequivocally reject this line of reasoning. If the question were racial discrimination, would ROTC be invited back on campus? Students can tolerate anti-gay policies because homophobia is more accepted in society.
BUT even if ROTC accepted gays, it should be kept off campus for academic reasons. The faculty voted in 1969 to deny ROTC "special privilege or facilities granted either by contract or informal arrangement." Under these conditions, ROTC left. It refused to be just another extracurricular activity.
ROTC's purported academic mission continues to make a solely extracurricular relationship impossible. Control of a campus-based ROTC would lie not with the University, not with a student charter, but with the United States military. University-endorsed (if not credited) courses would be given by teachers appointed by the Defense Department. The senior commander would have to be given a faculty position.
These conditions are unacceptable. Harvard should never forfeit control of what is taught in its classrooms, especially to a government agency.
THERE are also larger academic issues at stake. It contradicts the University's educational mission to have an outside group, especially one that prioritizes the use of force, control an academic department. This University should be in the business of education and not military training; ROTC should not return.
ROTC supporters argue that problems could be resolved by working within the system--start a ROTC chapter and fill it with bright Harvard minds. This is Harvard elitism at its worst. The military, perhaps the most inflexible institution in America, will not change its policies because of a few students. And it is unclear whether any military training operation could change enough to be appropriate for special privileges in the Harvard community.
GIVEN the complexity of the ROTC debate, we are extremely disappointed with the slipshod proceedings which have characterized the Undergraduate Council's action. Few council members understood anything about the past experience of ROTC on campus and the implications of its return. The academics committee, for example, approved the resolution without even considering ROTC's anti-gay discrimination. And the relevance of the council's constitution was never significantly addressed. The council chair himself has since called the resolution unconstitutional.
The council's biggest mistake was its failure to inform the student body of its impending vote. The current campus debate, raging in dining halls and dorm rooms, should have contributed to the decision, rather than come after the fact. When the council discussed the finals club resolution earlier this fall, it postered the campus announcing the meeting; ROTC has proven to be as controversial, and students should have been given as much advanced warning.
The irresponsible style with which this issue was presented, the ignorance of relevant information, and the inability of the council to follow its own rules simply embarrass an organization which claims to represent students.
SOME students do rely on ROTC scholarships to afford a college education--but that needn't involve Harvard. Inviting ROTC back on campus would embrace the federal government's decision to make a free education contigent upon four years of military service. Harvard's role should be to advocate affordable education for all, not just those who commit themselves to the military.
We must oppose discrimination, uphold Harvard's academic integrity and support greater access to higher education. Toward these ends, we call on the council to rescind its recommendation and the faculty and administration to hold to their past decision. Keep ROTC off this campus.
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