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When outgoing President Derek C. Bok wrote a letter earlier this month urging the military to stop discriminating against gays and lesbians, many assumed that he would reiterate the harsh words of the Faculty Council's ROTC resolution.
The council resolution, issued this spring, called on the military to immediately reconsider its policy of barring gays and lesbians from service. If not, the council recommended, Harvard should discontinue all relations with the military, effectively barring students from participating in Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).
Instead, Bok's letter to secretary of Defense Richard Cheney--cosigned by outgoing Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence--was carefully reasoned and conciliatory, politely requesting that Cheney reconsider the controversial policy. Bok and Spence made no mention of the council resolution, avoiding explicit discussion of change in Harvard's official relationship with ROTC.
Although Bok's letter may seem to be a conciliatory step back from the council's position, insiders explain that the council statement had relatively little effect on the tone and substance of the administrators' letter.
In fact, Spence proposed the idea for the letter before the ROTC policy ever cameto a vote at the council, members say. As such,the views expressed in the memo belong only toSpence and Bok, and were not intended to representthe opinion of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences(FAS).
"I think this is a personal letter of PresidentBok and Dean Spence and the fact that they didn'trefer to the actions of the faculty council isfine," says Assistant Professor of GovernmentKatherine Tate, who sits on the Faculty Council.
And Assistant Dean of Harvard College John R.Marquand, who is secretary to FAS, confirms thatthe idea for the letter was conceived by Spence.But "in the end, he and Bok wrote the letter,"Marquand says.
That Bok's letter was kinder than the council'sultimatum came as no surprise to those who knowBok's style. Through the years, Bok has beensympathetic to ROTC, and has said on numerousocassions that he would not oppose its return tothe Harvard campus.
And insiders say that as a lawyer, Bok isnaturally hestitant to make written threats,particularly when the Corporation--which makes allfinal policy decisions for the University--has notspoken on the ROTC matter.
Although administrators and faculty membersdownplay the significance of the discrepenciesbetween high-level opinions on ROTC, thesedifferences could become important as theUniversity attempts to develop a coherent policyin the next two years.
"[Bok, Spence and the faculty] do notnecessarily have to have a united front, but wehave a consensus," Tate says. "In the end itsgoing to come down to a faculty vote anyway."
The Faculty will likely vote on the status ofROTC when the council's two-year "grace period"ends. But even then, the Corporation will have thefinal say on ROTC policy, and will have the optionof either supporting or effictively vetoing anyFAS decision.
Although such scenarios are currentlyfar-fetched and unlikely, the Corporation coulduse any number of techniques to override an FASban on ROTC. The governing body, for instance,could offer ROTC programs through another faculty,or could even create an entirely new faculty toaccomodate military training.
But Bok and Spence's letter are only of limiteduse in predicting what will happen in two years,since both administrators will be gone by the endof next academic year.
ROTC withdrew from Harvard in 1969, but theUniversity until recently allowed thge military touse some on-campus facilities. The May Councilresolution ended those privileges.
Currently, Harvard students who wish toparticipate must travel to the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology (MIT) for militaryinstruction. If Harvard were to cut all ties withthe military it would stop accepting ROTCscholarships, effectively prohibiting studentsfrom participating in the program.
The recent wave of anti-ROTC activism atHarvard began last spring when an UndergraduateCouncil proposal to return ROTC to campus met withstudent disapproval, and was soon repealed.
This year, anti-ROTC activism spread to otherschools, such as the University of Wisconsin andMIT. Earlier this spring, MIT Provost John M.Deutsch drafted a letter siomilar to Bok andSpence's, reflecting a growing tide of academicdiscontent with ROTC policies.
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