September 20th, 2012
01:12 PM ET

ROTC programs return to Harvard

by Sonia Kennebeck and Bob Crowley, CNN

(CNN) It is a scene that has not been witnessed at Harvard in the past 41 years: This week, U.S. Army cadets in uniform performed their 6:30 a.m. exercise routine on campus, the sun rising behind Harvard Stadium and reflecting on the faces of the students.

The Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, better known as ROTC, has returned to the Ivy League school after being dropped from campus in 1971 as a result of student protests against the Vietnam War. Later, the justification for the continued ban of ROTC programs at Harvard changed: The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prevented gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military, was cited as the reason ROTC students, who could still study at Harvard, had to travel to MIT for their required Army courses. Now this policy has been abolished. (Harvard opened an office for the Navy ROTC  in September 2011.)

The Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Harvard was one of the first in the nation. Here they are being photographed on Memorial Day, May 30, 1917.

The Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Harvard was one of the first in the nation. Here they are being photographed on Memorial Day, May 30, 1917.

At the 2012 ROTC commissioning ceremony at Harvard, school President Drew Gilpin Faust congratulated the new ROTC graduates and emphasized the importance of this new military-civilian partnership to U.S. society.

“As Harvard seeks to shape that society and educate its citizens, it must necessarily be connected to its military. We must ensure that Harvard students understand military service as a choice to consider and honor, even if – and perhaps especially if – they pursue other paths,” said Faust.

Kathryn Roth-Douquet, former Clinton administration Defense Department official and author of AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from the Military and How it Hurts Our Country,” has long criticized the ban of ROTC programs from Harvard and other Ivy League schools, including Yale, Columbia and Brown.

Harvard ROTC cadets are doing a bayonet drill in the school's stadium in 1917-1918.

Harvard ROTC cadets are doing a bayonet drill in the school's stadium in 1917-1918.

Roth-Douquet said, “Ivy League schools pride themselves to recruit and train the opinion-shapers and decision-makers in our society and these people need to understand the military. Everything else is dangerous for our democracy in which civilians control the military and need to do that intelligently.”

In her many years of speaking to students on Ivy League campuses, she has heard stories of ROTC cadets feeling the need to go undercover on campus because of hostile reactions from faculty and students. “I heard about one incident in which ROTC students at Harvard were called ‘baby killers’ when they walked across campus. Recently, though, I see more support for the military in the schools. That is why this change of policy is so significant, because it improves military-civilian relationships,” she said.

This positive view is shared by Lt. Col. Adam T. Edwards, a professor of military science at MIT and the commanding officer for the ROTC battalion. “Just the fact that we are back on the campus and were welcomed with open arms. Our students can openly wear their uniforms in and around campus, thereby heightening awareness for the armed services. And there is the symbolic portion to it, the re-partnering. The whole idea that Harvard talked about service and one aspect is service to the nation, through our military services.”

The original inscription to this photo reads: 'Setting up exercises, Harvard ROTC, Soldiers Field 1917-1918.'

The original inscription to this photo reads: 'Setting up exercises, Harvard ROTC, Soldiers Field 1917-1918.'

Historically, Harvard had been at the forefront of establishing a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps on campus. In 1916 some of the first ROTC cadets were studying at Harvard. In fact, Roth-Douquet said, Harvard actively demanded and argued for ROTC students. “Harvard was hoping to establish contemporary civilian morals, norms and culture within the military because they recognized America was on the brink of becoming a world power, and they wanted to make sure the military carried U.S. civil values abroad.”

This belief changed drastically during the Vietnam War when American civilian and military culture drifted widely apart. That is when some Ivy League schools, including Harvard, expelled ROTC programs from their campuses. In the later years, however, Kathryn Roth-Douquet said she believes the Ivy League schools upheld the ban because it was convenient and avoided conflict rather than because of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“The law was created by Congress,” she said. “It is not in the military’s power to change it. But it was easy and comfortable for the schools to blame and punish the military. I think that was unethical.”

Nevertheless, the retraction of “don’t ask, don’t tell” by Congress in 2010 marked the turning point in the policy change regarding ROTC programs at most Ivy League schools. Now only Brown University continues to ban military exercises and classes on campus.

Today, Harvard is home to 30 ROTC students. Their morning exercise in front of Harvard Stadium will probably become a regular scene on campus.

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soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Ray

    I believe that the " ROTC" should suceed because then we have more troops to send to battle.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  2. Logan

    Nike rules

    September 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  3. Logan

    I like ROTC

    September 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  4. Logan


    September 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  5. turdburgler

    I no like ROTC

    September 21, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  6. Chris

    I am in NROTC as a Marine Option. I KNOW that I am not "qualified" to lead troops. Experience in combat? None. Capable of making objective decisions? Be aware of my situation? Be faster and stronger than most enlisted? Yes. We are training to be leaders on the ground, not the desk. If one is to lead troops, they must be an inspiration – an example – to those troops. No one becomes an experienced soldier out of training. Certainly, some enlisted DO qualify as officers. And they have to get a degree as well. It may not be the desired method to have objective (and critically thinking) leaders, but it is the most capable. Being in ROTC is not easy; and that's the way they want it.

    September 21, 2012 at 2:24 am |
  7. Alagle

    After ROTC, 2nd Lieutenants go to Basic Officer Leaders Course (BOLC) for additional training.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  8. sheldon

    Hopefully these kids are taught how to be a little more humane on the battlefield and how to treat pow's with dignity and respect.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  9. jmanzella

    I don't understand your snarky comment, nor the need for it. Stop being a troll.

    September 20, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  10. Dennis

    Harvard is spineless and there is also no room for ROTC on any campus

    September 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Douglas

      What do you mean by "there is also no room for ROTC on any campus"? There is plenty of room for the ROTC at the local university.

      September 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  11. Red Team

    Oh good I'll sleep much safer at night someone from Harvard is now "certified" to lead troops into combat.

    September 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Douglas

      This is the ROTC... They are training to become officers. They will still have to go to additional officer training after ROTC.

      September 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
      • Macula

        No Douglas they don't. Once graduated they are full blown 2nd Lieutenants that can command a unit. What they still need is training in their job (artillery, infantry, etc). No extra officer training required

        September 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm |