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Kagan, Harvard, and ROTC

May 11, 2010

Much has been written over the past few days about President Obama’s new Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, who also happens to be the former Dean of Harvard Law School. Incidentally, it was during her time as Dean that she made a decision that David Brooks calls perhaps the only clue about her only deeply-held convictions about the law and contentious social issues: she fought to ban military recruiters from the Law School on the basis of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which she (along with the rest of Harvard’s administration, even today) argued was inconsistent with the school’s anti-discrimination policy.

The story is a complicated one – and, indeed, Harvard’s relationship with ROTC is perhaps best summed up in that word: “complicated.” As Harvard Republicans, however, we can offer some clarity to the issue given our experience in fighting for the official recognition of ROTC at Harvard. And, in particular, we can offer a reality check on opinions like that of Harvard Law Professor Robert Clark in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Professor Clark recounts the history of the Law School’s relationship with the military, and, in perfect firefighting mode for the Obama administration, concludes that Kagan’s actions towards the military and ROTC at Harvard were perfectly uncontroversial:

As dean, Ms. Kagan basically followed a strategy toward military recruiting that was already in place.

While this may be true in a statutory sense (i.e. Kagan didn’t change the school’s policy towards the military, except to the degree that the battles over the Solomon Amendment allowed her to restrict recruiters from using the Office of Career Services or not), Professor Clark misses the point entirely. The question is not whether Kagan, as Dean of HLS, continued policies that her predecessors put in place or whether her decisions were consistent with those at other elite law schools. The question is whether restricting military recruitment at Harvard because of DADT is right in the first place.

And I think that most Americans (whose Senators will soon be voting on Kagan’s confirmation to the Supreme Court), not to mention most Harvard College students, would answer that question with an emphatic “no.” Harvard does not officially recognize ROTC at the Law School or at the undergraduate level, which means that Harvard students who wish to participate in ROTC must do so down the river at MIT, using money from their own pockets (or those of generous alumni who help keep the program alive with private funding) to fund transportation costs and cross-registration fees. It is not right that a school that receives federal funding from the United States government should be allowed to neglect to recognize the service of brave students who choose to engage in one of the highest forms of public service by joining our nation’s armed forces.

Most importantly, the policy advocated by Kagan and others at Harvard is not only wrong and morally inconsistent, but unfair to the students who choose to serve. The DADT policy that Kagan and the liberal establishment constantly criticize and use as a basis for restricting the military at Harvard is not a policy that the military has any discretion to change – it’s a policy enacted by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by a Democrat President, Bill Clinton. That means that students in ROTC (not to mention military recruiters) have essentially zero ability to pursue changing DADT, even if they wanted to. Yet ROTC cadets and midshipmen are the primary bearers of the costs of Harvard’s policy. This is hardly fair, especially when other, more productive avenues exist for Harvard to criticize DADT. Indeed, what could be more attention-grabbing than for Harvard to officially recognize ROTC in a press release that vigorously denounces the DADT policy?

The problem is that DADT might be acting as a convenient excuse more than a deep problem. DADT has only been around since 1993, yet ROTC has not been officially recognized at Harvard since the 1960s, when it was kicked off campus in the heat of Vietnam-era student protests. DADT cannot be blamed for Harvard’s lack of recognition for student military service for the 30+ years in between. And the fact is that a large contingent of Harvard’s Faculty opposes the idea of military recruiters and ROTC on campus, with or without DADT. So if Harvard administrators who are ostensibly friendly to the military (as Professor Clark argues Kagan is) continue to offer a convenient fig leaf in the form of DADT to reactionary anti-military Faculty at Harvard, we should expect to see Edmund Burke’s famous adage come true: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

The bottom line is that, whether the excuse is DADT or general repulsion to the military, Harvard’s policy prohibiting official recognition of ROTC and some military recruitment is rightfully opposed by majorities at Harvard and, presumably, in the country as a whole. This means that Kagan, friend of the military or not, was certainly going against the grain of public sentiment by refusing to allow recruiters at HLS through OCS. And therefore arguments like Professor Clark’s, that Kagan was just “going with the flow,” should not be accepted by Senators during her confirmation hearing.

All of this does not necessarily mean that Kagan’s confirmation should be opposed. By all accounts, she appears to be among the most moderate of the potential choices President Obama could have made for the nominee. And, despite the efforts of Kagan and other Harvard administrators, the position of the military at Harvard has slowly advanced in recent years, with the ROTC Commissioning Ceremony now allowed to take place on Harvard Yard and an ROTC color guard unit participating in the inauguration of Drew Faust as Harvard’s President.

But Kagan’s confirmation hearing presents a perfect opportunity to advance the cause of official recognition of ROTC at Harvard and to expose Harvard’s policy on the military for what it is – a wrong and wrong-headed relic of a “Woodstock generation” Faculty.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Zach permalink
    May 11, 2010 11:45 am

    From a Purdue ROTC Grad/ Current Army Officer…nicely done.

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