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October 31, 2009

The New York Times just published an extensive article on the topic of a perennial debate at Harvard: ROTC.

ROTC is the Reserve Officer Training Corps — the organization that administrators say they want to support but claim they ethically cannot.

Last year’s pro-ROTC activism by the HRC led to coverage of the issue from the Wall Street Journal, Carl Cannon, CNN (see below), the New York Times, and more.  It sparked dining hall debates, pointed op-eds, and contentious house list discussions.  And that’s a good thing: thoughtful debate is healthy.

But amidst such debate, issues often get convoluted; arguments get confused.  A refresher, then, is in order.

THE FACTS (on ROTC, its recognition, and what that means)

The Reserve Officers Training Corps is a voluntary program on college campuses which trains students to receive commissions as military officers upon graduation. In 1969, Harvard banned ROTC to signal its opposition to the Vietnam War. Today, ROTC remains unrecognized because of the college’s opposition to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993.  Current Harvard students who wish to join the military through ROTC must rely on private funds to pay for cross-registration to participate in the program at MIT.

Giving full recognition to ROTC would not require the creation of a full program at Harvard; instead, it would involve the College facilitating cross-registration at MIT as it does for other students. In addition, the language in administrative materials (including the student handbook) would be changed to express recognition and support for the program and the students who participate in it.


The HRC believes that opposition to DADT does not preclude support of ROTC.

It believes that the Faculty and President Faust can respect, recognize, and honor ROTC — while strongly opposing DADT.  President Faust — always among Forbes Top 100 Most Powerful Women — could use her considerable political clout to push for DADT’s repeal while supporting national service and ROTC.  She admits in the NYT article the complexities of maintaining the current position.

So make things easier: articulate a new, clear position and proceed with renewed energy in overturning DADT, recognizing ROTC, and bringing the Faculty on board.

After all, she wishes “there were more [new ROTC officers].”

THE POLL (from last April — criticized, yet thought-provoking)

Remember the poll?  (The NYT does.) Harvard students, you likely received an email stating:

Dear Harvard Student,

This year marks the 40th year that Harvard College has not officially recognized the Reserve Officer Training Corps on campus.

Over the last month, we have seen increased dialogue on the issue both on and off campus.  National papers have reported and editorialized on the subject, and President Obama has called for Harvard and other Ivy League Schools to once again officially recognize ROTC.

Now you can make your voice heard.

A campus-wide poll has opened for Harvard students to express their views on the issue

The referendum style-poll run by the HRC revealed that among the 1,700+ students who participated, ROTC recognition was favored by a majority of all students, houses, years, and political affiliations (Republican, Independent, Democrat).

The Crimson criticized it for not being randomized.  The HRC never claimed it to be; the Club was up front about what it was and was not.

But the numbers remain striking.  It generated passionate discussion and raised awareness — and that was largely the goal.  Moreover, it showed that if the issue were put to a vote — as it was at Columbia — ROTC would likely return to campus.  The HRC looks forward to co-sponsoring a randomized, scientific poll this year with a partner organization.  Any takers?


One hopes that President Obama will fulfill his campaign promise of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military.  And when he does, Harvard must welcome back ROTC with open arms.  Even so, Harvard’s support of military service should not be contingent upon DADT’s repeal.

But, in the meantime and at the very least, Harvard students must be prepared — at the moment of a DADT repeal — to hold the Faculty accountable and demand they show ROTC the respect they deserve.

To see the long history of this debate, search the Crimson archives for “ROTC.”  Happy reading.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Franklin Dickinson permalink
    November 2, 2009 7:33 pm

    Thank you for your effort. My son Colin is a student (class of 2013) at Harvard and is one of two freshmen who are part of the Navy ROTC unit.

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