The ROTC Is Not Invited At Harvard

Drew Faust’s inauguration as Harvard President last Friday featured a surprising presence: the Harvard ROTC. The ROTC, which has been banned from the Harvard campus since 1969, formed a closing color guard composed of Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force students. Most wouldn’t have expected Faust to invite the ROTC – and they’d be right – she didn’t invite them. Their appearance was arranged through a request from the cadets themselves. And they were far from sure of the response; the Harvard Crimson, writing on the topic, noted that “ROTC members did not originally plan to propose the idea to Faust because they did not expect her to be interested.” Faust was receptive, however, and the closing color guard was arranged.
This appearance struck against fears that, after significant outreach to the ROTC during the Summers years, the organization would again be marginalized. Summers’ stance was hardly popular. Harvey Mansfield observed that “Summers made it clear that one of his desires on becoming President was to return ROTC to campus.” He was the first President in decades to attend ROTC commissioning ceremonies each year, where he conveyed unambiguous messages of support for the cadets. He “spoke strongly and clearly wanted things to change” a stance, Mansfield observes, that did not endear him to many at Harvard.

After the Summers experience, it was widely expected that Harvard would resume a more uniformly hostile stance towards ROTC. Neither incoming President Faust nor interim President Derek Bok attended this year’s ROTC commissioning ceremony. Stephen Rosen, the Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs, expressed a widely-recognized truth about the university at that gathering: “Harvard.. is uneasy with national military service, because it is uneasy with war, and with warriors, and it is no longer comfortable with the idea of Harvard as an American university, as opposed to an international university.”

Faust’s consenting to the ROTC color guard participation in her inauguration may prove an encouraging sign. Mansfield, who’s served on the Harvard faculty since 1962, doesn’t recall any ROTC participation in commencements or inaugurations. The inaugural color guard might be a sign of change; Faust called the ROTC issue “complex” in a recent interview, but stated that she would consider attending the commissioning ceremony next year. Captain David Gowel, who heads the Harvard Army cadets that participated in the event, judged Faust pleased by the ROTC participation. He didn’t think it curious that it came about as a result of the students’ request, noting that color guards are often formed when outside parties request their services, but at times volunteered for “events cadets are interested in.”

Looking to the pattern of recent events for which the ROTC were requested, and those for which they had to suggest participation is not an encouraging sign of ROTC’s place on the campus. Just last Feburary, a women’s basketball game featured the first ROTC color guard at a Harvard athletic event in years. It was novel enough for the Crimson to run a full story on the topic. Did the team ask them to appear? The athletics administration? Nope. In what seems a pattern, the cadets had to ask. Some ROTC appearance is preferable to nothing, but Captain Gowel’s mention of their latest color guard request put their place on campus in stark perspective – they were asked to appear at a Boston Celtics game. Professional basketball will invite them, but they’re left to find their own way in to Harvard basketball games – not to mention commencements.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

22 thoughts on “The ROTC Is Not Invited At Harvard

  1. I was an MIT student who took NROTC at Harvard from 1968 through 1971 in order to obtain a commission in the unrestricted line (at that time MIT only gave engineering duty only commissions). I used to ride the Mass. Ave bus in uniform between the MIT and Harvard campuses without incident – townies in Cambridge were quite supportive of college students who were going to serve in the military along side their children who were not able to get the student deferments available to the children of the elite).
    While there were incidents of anti-war students harassing midshipmen on the grounds of Harvard College, I never had that experience at MIT, even when the ROTC building was taken over during an anti-war protest. I’m proud that MIT took on a role of supporting ROTC for the Boston-area colleges – and disappointed that nearly 40 years after participating in Harvard’s NROTC unit that Harvard has still not asked ROTC back on campus.
    The Harvard NROTC unit did exactly what one would hope – it provided a liberal education to the people who were going into the service. I benefited considerably from my participation in the Harvard program and it was a loss both to Harvard and to the nation when Harvard gave up on ROTC.

  2. As others have indicated, I will not contribute anything to Harvard until the ROTC is allowed on campus. One of my classmates there is named in the very first column of the deaths listed on the Vietnam memorial in Washington, and not allowing ROTC on campus is a direct dishonor to his name. I am embarrassed to be a graduate, and this will continue so long as the ROTC is barred.

  3. My daughter, a HS junior at New Mexico Military Institute, was considering applying to Harvard as an undergrad majoring in Architecture. Based on the University’s position against ROTC, she will not apply. This won’t make a bit of difference as there is no shortage of applicants, but what a shame that such intolerance exists at this prestigious school. PJK

  4. Steve,
    I will enlighten you as to the fact that the only “militarism” that is going on at campuses is the militarism of hatred that you and your close-minded type spew towards others that are different from you. Which BTW that hatred, has no intellectual value anywhere in the world, let alone on a University campus.

  5. My apologies to SteveA for associating him with Anonymous’ (another word for coward) posting. SteveA, thank you for your service. Hooah!

  6. Thanks to SteveA for his comment. He represents that misguided and delusional segment of our society whose free speech we soldiers are prepared to lay down our lives to defend.

  7. “”Harvard.. is uneasy with national military service, because it is uneasy with war, and with warriors….”
    Harvard is uneasy with national military service because it is full of bourgeois parasites like Anonymous immediately above. It is no real loss; it is not clear how many of its graduates are fit for military service, and its influence on the national awareness doesn’t extend far beyond the East Coast.

  8. I find this yet another sign of the ongoing rise of militarism on campuses. The ROTC has no place on any college campus anywhere. The absurd conflation of patriotism and state violence is anathema to the aims and purposes of education.

  9. I was a ROTC member at MIT during the Reagan Administration. The Harvard members of our unit were so unwelcome on their own campus that they has to pack their uniforms in luggage and change into them when they reached the MIT campus. We got a certain amount of petty harassment even at MIT, but nothing like what they experienced at Harvard.
    Once, returning from a field training exercise, our bus was headed toward Harvard Square. After a quick conversation in the back of the bus, we made the driver stop, got out, and marched in formation, in uniform, sixty strong, through the center of the Harvard campus. Then we got back on the bus. Just our way of letting the Harvard folks in our unit know they were appreciated.

  10. I graduated from Stanford, and will now give money only to Fordham University where my daughter goes. They have ROTC. They have a hard and complete Western civilization core (none of this “distribution” nonsense) where you study history, English, art, music and theology/philosophy from ancient to modern times over two years. They have rules that boys have to be out of the girls’ dorms, and girls out of the boys’ dorms, by 1:00 AM. In short they support my values, and I’m not even Catholic. I hope that they become as prestigious as Harvard.

  11. I just left an assignment at Boston University Army ROTC as an instructor.
    Harvard students take their ROTC requirements at MIT.
    Of the 8 Ivies, only Princeton and Cornell are Army ROTC “host” institutions, meaning that the Army instructional cadre has its offices on that campus and teaches courses at the college as part of the faculty. The other Ivies allow their students to take the ROTC courses at other nearby universities usually for no credit toward their diploma at their parent college.
    (In the case of Yale, “nearby” means a 60 mile drive to the University of Connecticut to take the classes.)

  12. Re Leroy Hurt’s comment – Considering the price of tuition I have to wonder why they need any Fed money at all.

  13. If I remember correctly, the cadets and Midshipmen of Harvard complete their ROTC requirements at MIT, a school that rather actively supports the programs. Far from bolstering their image as an “international university,” I find that fact that Harvard students that are engaged in a noble effort and following the traditions of service basically feel almost a need to hide that light under a bushel and go forth with little or no recognition from their alma mater to be little more than disgraceful.

  14. G. Plant is right. Harvard’s enormous, 30-billion dollar endowment, with precious little of it ever used to lower their exorbitant tuition fees, won’t be effected by the loss of even a seven-figure donation from him. But that same donation, given to a smaller and less snobbish private college, could make quite a difference in the lives of its students. Perhaps he should consider doing that and informing Harvard that his generosity is better employed elsewhere.
    Or perhaps he should use the money to help set up a non-profit dedicated to linking these smaller colleges with donors who graduated from prestigious universities that have far more money than they can use wisely.
    Loyalty to a specific nation has costs associated with it, particularly in war time. In contrast, loyalty to the world is easy, imposing no such costs. Unlike its ROTC students, Harvard’s faculty has given up the burden of defending the U.S. against its foes (including terrorists), without taking upon itself the burden of drafting and sending members of from their own ranks to Rwanda, to fight and die ending the genocide there. In truth, they care little about the citizens of the US or of Rwanda. They’re not citizens of the world. They’re simply selfish and shallow. G. K. Chesterton would have called them prigs.
    Edmund Burke pointed out that we learn to love large things by learning love in “small platoons” such as the family. By failing to love their own country, the faculty members of Harvard are demonstrating that they’ve never really learned to love the world.
    As G. K. Chesterton points out in a book that I’m editing, Chesterton on War (out this fall), it is only by loving our own country that we can learn to appreciate someone else’s love for his country. Only in that mutual appreciation is there any hope for peace.
    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books, Seattle

  15. As graduates of Harvard University, my wife and I are used to getting mail from them asking for donations, but after years of giving we now politely decline. In my case, that’s partly because of their dismissive attitude towards ROTC, as well as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences banishing of former University president Summers. We could easily write a check for 7 figures to them, but it’s not going to happen — ever. We realize that a donation of that size, though substantial, would be just a drop in the bucket compared with Harvard’s more than 30 billion dollar endowment. However, you have to know that when it comes to money, every donation refused them seems to pain them a great deal. Good. They deserve it.

  16. If Harvard is an international university, then it seems appropriate to end US funding support to its research, or to its students.

  17. It would be interesting to find out if Harvard gets credit for having ROTC cadets and therefore patriotism credit when those cadets appear at Boston Celtics games.

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