Harvard announced on Friday that it will lift its four-decade-long ban on the Reserve Officers Training Corps. It’s about time.
The prohibition formally ceases when the military implements Congress’s repeal of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy later this year. Although Harvard’s agreement now extends only to the Department of the Navy, the school intends to reach out to other branches of the military as well. Harvard’s recognition won’t likely change the burden of cadets traveling two subway stops to MIT to participate in training and education since there are too few cadets at Harvard to justify a separate unit. Recognition will grant such perks as office space, funding, and access to Harvard vehicles. During periods of ROTC’s exile, Harvard prevented cadets from meeting in unused classroom space and holding commissioning ceremonies in Harvard Yard. The attitude on the Cambridge, Massachusetts campus has become more tolerant toward martial pursuits since 9/11.
“Our renewed relationship affirms the vital role that the members of our Armed Forces play in serving the nation and securing our freedoms, while also affirming inclusion and opportunity as powerful American ideals,” Harvard President Drew Faust proclaimed. “It broadens the pathways for students to participate in an honorable and admirable calling and in so doing advances our commitment to both learning and service.” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, a Harvard Law graduate who also spoke at the ceremony announcing ROTC’s return, concurred: “It does not serve our country well if any part of society does not share in the honor of its defense.”
Not everyone, particularly at Harvard, finds military service so honorable. Outside Friday’s historic ceremony, dozens of protestors chanted “No ROTC without trans equality” and held signs reading “R.I.P. non-discrimination policy.” Just as the exclusion of open homosexuals from military service acted as the justification for the ban on ROTC long after the original Vietnam rationale had become history, the military’s exclusion of transsexuals, some had hoped, would become the new issue blocking ROTC on campus. Harvard’s non-discrimination policy, like those at several other top schools, forbids discrimination based on gender identity.
The failure for this argument to resonate—perhaps for the obvious reason that there are few transsexuals and fewer still interested in military careers—at Harvard likely bodes well for ROTC’s reestablishment at other elite campuses. Just as colleges played follow the leader to Harvard when it first moved against ROTC in 1969, schools will likely imitate America’s most esteemed school’s move to restore ROTC in 2011. Stanford, Yale, Columbia, and Brown are among elite institutions of higher learning considering an about-face on ROTC in light of Congress’s about-face on the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
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