ROTC Fights for Its Future

Faculty-Student Committee Split on Generational Lines

Two years ago, the University Seemed to be on the forefront of a campaign against the U.S. military's policy of excluding gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Former President Derek C. Bok fired off a strongly worded letter to Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney. Just weeks later, Dean of the Facutly A. Michael Spence and the Faculty Council issued a public ultimatum: The school would cut ties with Reserve officers Training Corps if the military didn't end its discriminatory policy in two years.

But the deadline came and went last month, with barely a whimper from Harvard. The military continues to expel homosexuals from its ranks; the University continues to sponsor an off-campus ROTC program.

New University leadership this year--under President Neil L. Rudenstine and Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles--balked at enforcing the bold threat without examining the issue one more time.

Concerned about regulating the extracurricular and financial aid options of Harvard's 150 ROTC cadets, Knowles said he was not bound by the old ultimatum and insisted on a fresh debate.


In January, the new dean appointed a special student-faculty committee to study the alternatives and draft a report by may.

The Undergraduate Council had already staked out its position in the winter--it voted narrowly in favor of maintaining ROTC despite the military's discriminatory policies.

The students activists who forced the Faculty to kick ROTC off campus in 1969 have been replaced in 1992 by a student government cautiously toeing the line of pragmatism.

But the students may still face a battle on the student-faculty ROTC committee--the generation gap on the 10-member panel is conspicuous.

Only two members of the committee--both students--have expressed support for ROTC. In contrast, at least four of the six professors on the committee appears more inclined to abandon Harvard's remaining ties with ROTC.

Committee member Timothy P. McCormack '92, Navy ROTC student, spearheaded the Undergraduate Council proposal for status quorelations with ROTC and unabashedly opposes any move to shut down the program.

McCormack argues that any symbolic gesture by the University would have little effect on Pentagon policy, while seriously reducing the ability of undergraduates in the ROTC program to pay tuition. David A. Aronberg '93, the Undergraduate Council chair and a member of the committee, also supports the status quo.

But critics of ROTC say the program's exclusion of homosexuals is simply incompatible with the University's own policy of nondiscrimination. Some also argue that Harvard's action would focus attention on an important issue, and perhaps prompt action in Congress, if not the Pentagon.

The ROTC issue is a complex one. It pits thevalue of protesting a discriminatory policy notsimply against the benefits of ROTC scholarships,but also against an individual student's right toenroll in the program.

The student-faculty ROTC committee met severaltimes this spring but could not complete its taskbefore the end of the year. Pforzheimer UniversityProfessor Sidney Verba '53, who chairs the ROTCcommittee, says the group needs more time to studythe issues.

Verba says the committee "is definitelyinvestigating all possibilities" and will producea final recommendation by early fall.