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For the first time since the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) was kicked off campus in 1969, cadets this fall will be able to take a Harvard course for military credit.
Though it comes at a time when University President Lawrence H. Summers has been outspoken in his support for cadets despite his and Harvard’s opposition to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals, the move represents a change in the ROTC course credit list and not any shift in Harvard position.
A Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) rule prohibits any “financial or other direct support” of the Harvard students who travel to MIT to participate in ROTC, and the ROTC courses they take there do not count for credit.
Former cadet Brian R. Smith ’02 and Col. John Kuconis, who commanded the Air Force ROTC detachment at MIT before retiring this summer, led the effort to win ROTC headquarters’ approval of Government 1730, “War and Politics” to fulfill the Air Force’s sophomore military history requirement.
Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs Stephen P. Rosen ’74, who has taught the course since 1990, wrote in an e-mail that he did not and would not change it in response to any ROTC requirement. The class, which cadets like Smith often took in addition to their ROTC history course, covers war strategy over a wide range of historical conflicts.
Kuconis said “War and Politics” was a “perfect match” with the required Air Force history course.
Smith, who had suggested the course to Kuconis, asked the University to promote such ROTC waivers in a successful Undergraduate Council bill in May, saying they would ease the travel burden on cadets while giving them the opportunity to learn from world-class Harvard professors.
“Most of my ROTC classmates were engineers or scientists,” Smith added this week in an e-mail. “Taking courses in history and political science lead to a more well-rounded officer.”
By allowing “War and Politics” to count for ROTC credit as well as Harvard credit, the move will also eliminate a need—during at least one semester—for cadets to take their ROTC requirements as an extra class, Kuconis said.
“The students have a very hard load,” he said. “It’s a great deal for the students, and I think it’s a good deal for ROTC.”
The Air Force had already approved two MIT courses, one for a senior-year ROTC requirement on national security policy and one for a junior-year requirement on leadership and management, to substitute for officer-taught courses. Harvard cadets can earn joint credit for those two courses because the University has a cross-registration agreement with MIT.
But Smith said during the council debate over his bill that it was more difficult for Harvard professors to coordinate the exchange of syllabi or other course information necessary for approval because of the University’s carefully maintained distance from ROTC.
Cadets’ cross-registration costs are currently funded by an independent alumni trust, though Summers questioned that policy during his first year as president.
The legislation asks Summers and FAS to “work with the ROTC to facilitate the adoption of policies that would allow relevant FAS courses to satisfy curricular requirements of the ROTC” so long as they do not violate the University’s anti-discrimination policy.
The University has taken no official position on the council’s action and said ROTC’s recent approval was simply the program’s decision, not Harvard’s.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate for the Harvard curriculum to be altered to respond to any kind of outside group or student activity,” Summers said in a May interview. “I do think national security is an important area for study and one that’s of great interest to many students.”
During the council debate, some students objected to the idea that the University would encourage collaboration with ROTC as too much of a show of support. But few of the council members who voted against the bill said they would oppose professors who chose to act on their own, so long as they did not change their courses.
“War and Politics” was mentioned in the Smith legislation, and Rosen said he generally supports the bill’s contention that current Harvard courses can fit ROTC requirements.
“I think the bill shed light on the issue of Harvard courses for ROTC credit, which is why we saw the approval come so quickly after the bill passed,” Smith wrote in an e-mail.
Both Kuconis and Smith said they hoped to win approval from ROTC headquarters for other Harvard courses, though Kuconis said only a small number of courses could fit the specialized curriculum.
Rosen, who was named a Harvard College Professor for outstanding teaching this year, was formerly a professor at the Naval War College and also served on the staff of the National Security Council under President Reagan.
—Staff writer Elisabeth S. Theodore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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