Citing support from both major presidential candidates, a conservative alumni organization called for the return of the Reserve Officer Training Corps to Harvard Unviersityand four other universities in letters to the schools governing boards last week.
The letter, sent by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, quoted Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama endorsing ROTC training on college campuses.
The notion that young people here at Columbia or anywhere in any university arent offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake, Obama said at the ServiceNation presidential forum hosted by Columbia earlier this month.
The letter appears unlikely to change Harvards policy toward ROTC, which was banned from campus in 1969 amid anti-military sentiment during the Vietnam War. ROTC has since been blocked from returning due to the militarys dont ask, dont tell policy, which bars openly gay men and women from military service.
Harvard students who participate in ROTC do so through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but do not receive any academic credit at Harvard.
There arent any current plans to reconsider the current arrangement, said university spokesman John D. Longbrake.
ACTA President Anne D. Neal 77 said she hoped members of the Harvard Corporation, the universitys chief governing board, would reconsider their stance in light of the candidates comments.
Its noteworthy that both major candidates feel that having ROTC on campus is a matter of student choice and equity, she said. Institutions should take up this issue.
But Paul E. Mawn 63, the chairman of Advocates for Harvard ROTC and a retired Navy captain, said in an interview yesterday that ACTA may not understand what the realistic target is and that the goal should be official recognition by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, not the opening of a ROTC branch at Harvard.
The reality is that there are so few students at ROTC anyway, so tomorrow if Harvard begged and pleaded the Pentagon to bring it back on campus, they wouldnt, Mawn said. What has evolved around the country is core sites like MIT that service several different schools. MIT has the critical mass and good facilities and classrooms for the courses and drilling and other activities. There is no critical mass at Harvard.
Mawn added that he would rather see the faculty officially recognize ROTC by sending the money it receives from ROTC scholarships an amount that totals in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to MIT to pay for overhead and other costs. He noted that Harvard used to make the payments but cut them off in the early 1990s. Since then, a group of alumni have been giving money to MIT to cover the administrative costs.
Harvard students interviewed yesterday were split on the issue of whether ROTC should be allowed to return to campus.
I can understand why Harvard would feel that way, said Aaron R. Scherer 11, an ROTC cadet. But it just makes it really inconvenient for the students who have to do ROTC.
Despite Obamas stance, Harvard College Democrats President Jarret A. Zafran 09 said he would continue to support keeping ROTC off campus unless the dont ask, dont tell policy is revoked.
It has no place on Harvards campus, Zafran said. Dont ask, dont tell is a discriminatory policy. I dont think that [Obama] would disagree with our anti-discrimination policy.
Harvard Republican Club President Colin J. Motley 10 agreed that dont ask, dont tell is discriminatory but said Harvards rules unjustly punish the military for a policy enacted by the U.S. Congress and should be changd.
I think it shows how far out of the mainstream Harvard is on this issue when it has strong support from members of both parties, Motley said.
The other schools that were sent the ACTA letter are Yale, Stanford, Brown, and Columbia, according to Neal.
Neal said that none of the schools has responded yet, but the presidential candidates comments at the forum have already sparked debate on the issue at Columbia, according to The Columbia Spectator.