A Principled Stance on ROTC

Harvard should continue indirect funding, supporting cadets but not discrimination

In a Veteran’s Day letter to Harvard’s cadets in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), University President Lawrence H. Summers said he admired the way the students were serving their country. Since then, he has questioned the “unorthodox” manner in which Harvard cadets receive funding and has made a personal appeal to the editors of Harvard’s yearbook to include ROTC in this year’s edition. ROTC—originally banished from campus during the Vietnam War—has been barred since 1994 because the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy violates Harvard’s non-discrimination rules. Currently, Harvard students who wish to participate in ROTC must travel to MIT, but their costs are paid in part by alumni donations that former President Neil L. Rudenstine arranged through indirect channels.

The current arrangement is ideal—it allows Harvard students to serve in the armed forces without compromising the University’s moral stance against discrimination.

The College’s stand against ROTC and the University’s subsequent arrangements for funding through outside channels form a principled position. Those who wish to join ROTC can—with the knowledge that the school supports their service but not the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The position is consistent with the University’s policy toward other student groups, such as final clubs, which were cut off from the University in the mid-1980s because they did not allow women to join. The University should maintain the current arrangement with ROTC for the sake of the moral statement that the Faculty made when it ruled that discrimination against gays is wrong, even when that discrimination is perpetrated by the U.S. government.

We support students who choose to join ROTC and travel down the river for their events. Especially at a time when the United States military is taking action around the globe in the fight against terrorism, it is imperative to support our men and women in uniform.

We hope that the military one day abolishes the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in favor of a more enlightened stance toward gays. If the policy changes, the University should not hesitate to offer ROTC the opportunity to return to campus. Summers should realize that such a change in the military’s policy—and not a change in Harvard’s—is the best way to resolve the “uncomfortable” relationship between Harvard and ROTC.

Dissent: Misplaced Priorities

The staff is right to reaffirm its support for the Harvard undergraduates who participate in ROTC. It is wrong, however, to argue that Harvard should continue not to recognize or directly fund ROTC because it opposes the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The argument boils down to which effect of not having ROTC is larger—the cost to national security or the benefit of appeasing some students’ and Faculty members’ equality-driven sensibilities.

Fortunately, the military doesn’t choose whether to protect Harvard Square. We, however, are blessed with the luxury of choosing whether to support the military. We should choose soberly and properly.