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In ROTC Address, Harvard President Mutes Criticism Of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

This story was written by Clifford M. Marks and Nathan C. Strauss,
After pledging to address the militarys Dont Ask, Dont Tell policy in her speech at the ROTC commissioning ceremony this morning, University President Drew G. Faust shied away from directly mentioning the issue, opting instead to use more general language like principles of inclusion.

I believe that every Harvard student should have the opportunity to serve in the military, as you do, she said to the five cadets and about 100 spectators on the steps of Memorial Church, in what amounted to the closest mention or condemnation of Dont Ask, Dont Tell.

The controversial policy, which is the basis for much of the opposition to ROTC at Harvard, bars openly gay individuals from serving in the armed forces.

In the weeks leading up to the speech, Faust had drawn fire for her plans to criticize the policy from conservative and pro-military groups, including in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month.

But in her seven-minute address, Faust mentioned neither the name of the policy nor the class of individuals it excludes from service, leaving her criticism implicit, and for some audience members, unheard.

Jason M. Scherer 08, one of the five students honored in the ceremony, said he thought Fausts remarks struck an appropriate balance, and that some attendees likely did not understand her references to Dont Ask, Dont Tell.

Some people did get it, but not everyone, he said. I think she said it in a way that was respectful to everyone in attendance.

Faust addressed the issue through examples highlighting the importance of military service as a symbol of citizenship.

The military served as a foundation for citizenship and a pathway to full participation in American life, she said, citing the importance of military service to black Americans and women in their struggles for equality.

But the copious mentions of Harvards centuries-old commitment to military servicefrom George Washingtons Continental Army to the Harvard Regiment of the Civil Waroften made the Universitys commitment to the military seem more historical than contemporary.

The Class of 1958 had over 150 in their ROTC class, according to Tad J. Oelstrom, a speaker at the event. By contrast, this years class had five, a number in keeping with recent classes.

Oelstrom, a retired lieutenant general who now directs National Security Programs at the Kennedy School, and the other speakers did not reference either Dont Ask, Dont Tell or Fausts oblique references to it. Instead, the attention was on the new officersand keeping dry from the pouring rain.

For those of you who think youre getting cheated because youre the only person to have rain during your commissioning ceremony, its almost typical, Oelstrom said, We can almost guarantee rain on this day at Harvard.

Staff writer Clifford M. Marks can be reached at

Staff writer Nathan C. Strauss can be reached at