After Harvard Leaders' Absence, ROTC Supporters Fear Return to Icy Relations

Wall Street Journal, student Republicans criticize Bok, Faust for failing to speak at commissioning ceremony

The absence of Interim President Derek C. Bok and President-elect Drew G. Faust from the annual Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) commissioning ceremony earlier this month has drawn fire from The Wall Street Journal and a conservative student group.

In recent years, Harvard's relationship with ROTC, banished from campus in 1969 due to concerns about the military's involvement in Vietnam, has warmed. Former President Lawrence H. Summers broke with precedent and spoke at the annual ROTC ceremony every year during his presidency in an effort to show support for students in the program and for expanded military access to the campus.

But this year, Bok, an Army veteran, and Faust did not attend the June 6 ceremony because each had prior commitments, according to Harvard spokesman John D. Longbrake. Bok was chairing his final meeting with the Harvard Corporation, the University's top governing body, and Faust was speaking to a group of Radcliffe alumnae celebrating their 50th reunion.

The highest-ranking Harvard affiliate to attend this year's ceremony was Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs Stephen P. Rosen '74, a military analyst who served as director of political-military affairs at the National Security Council during the Reagan administration. Rosen did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

At the ceremony, Rosen did not mention Bok and Faust by name in his speech, but he did note Summers' support for ROTC.

"In one way, I have little right to speak to you," Rosen said, according to a transcript posted on ROTC's Web site. "For the past five years, the president of Harvard has addressed this meeting, and I am not the president of Harvard."

The absence of Bok and Faust from the commissioning ceremony has been criticized by some who fear that it could indicate a shift away from the support for the military shown by Summers.

Jeffrey Kwong '09, the president of the Harvard Republican Club, said in an interview last week that “the message that is sent by the president's not attending is one that is quite negative, and it should be perceived as a downgrade of the University's recognition of ROTC.”

On June 8, The Wall Street Journal criticized the absence of Harvard's leaders at the ceremony. The ROTC program has been “mostly spurned by the school's administration” and that the graduating cadets' “honor and service deserve better from their academic tutors,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial. The Journal also praised Summers for having attended and spoken at the commissioning ceremony service in past years.

But Michael J. Arth '08, an Air Force cadet who was president of the Harvard ROTC association during the past year, took a more sympathetic view toward Faust and Bok, saying that he respected the president-elect's prior commitments and that most ROTC cadets will pay close to attention to what she does next year.

“We understand that she couldn't make it this time, and we hope that she's in attendance next year,” Arth said last week. “We'll look into that as an indication of her support for ROTC.”

Longbrake said it was "far too early" to say whether Faust would attend next year's event.

Faust has not yet offered firm views on the proper role of the military at Harvard.

In an interview in February, Faust said that she has “enormous respect for these students who commit themselves to this effort and to the service of their country,” but that Harvard should treat the issue in the broader context of whether it should recognize discriminatory groups.

“[These issues] were very fraught in the sixties obviously, [and] they were very fraught when Larry [Summers] confronted them,” Faust said. “It might be a time to look at them again and see what the right positions on these issues are.”

Summers took steps during his presidency to welcome the military back on campus, saying he “believes the degree of cleavage between the military and the academy is very detrimental for both.”

While Summers declined to comment on whether he believed Bok or Faust should have attended the ceremony, he wrote in an e-mailed statement that he made an effort to attend the ROTC commissioning ceremonies because he considered it "very important to show institutional support for the students who were entering the armed forces.”

And though he has called the military's prohibition on openly gay service members “offensive to human dignity,” he added that while one can “disagree passionately with the elected officials who bear responsibility for military policies on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to gays in the military,” these concerns are not sufficient “not to support those who commit themselves to the defense of our country.”

Discontent with Harvard's support for ROTC peaked in April 1969, when students stormed University Hall to protest, among other grievances, ROTC's presence on Harvard's campus. In recent years, Harvard and other elite universities have barred military recruiters from their campuses due to the military's “don't ask, don't tell” policy, which prohibits gay individuals from serving openly in the military.

A federal law mandates that universities receiving federal funds allow the military access to their campuses, but the ROTC has chosen not to open an office at Harvard. Harvard cadets participate in the program at MIT, which was officially approved by Harvard's faculty under Bok in 1976.

—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at