(617) 495-1502

Statement on ROTC

November 23, 1994

    I am writing to provide a further report on Harvard's involvement with the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

    Since the 1970s, a number of Harvard students have participated each year in ROTC programs based at MIT. Since 1984, at MIT's request, Harvard has paid MIT an annual fee reflecting the prorated administrative costs of Harvard students' participation in those programs. When the Faculty of Arts and Sciences approved this fee in 1984, it expressly stated that its action should not be understood "to imply support of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."

    In 1990, the FAS Faculty Council issued a statement concerning the exclusion of students from ROTC service on the basis of sexual orientation. The Council recommended suspension of Harvard's ROTC involvement in two years "if insufficient progress in resolving the issues of discrimination has been made to justify continuing our support and cooperation." Following the Faculty Council statement, President Derek C. Bok and FAS Dean A. Michael Spence together wrote to the Secretary of Defense to urge a change in the military's policy of excluding gay and lesbian students from ROTC.

    Shortly after my own arrival at Harvard, I appointed a special faculty-student committee, chaired by Professor Sidney Verba, to examine and report on the status of Harvard's involvement with ROTC. In October 1992, following a detailed study, the special committee issued an exceptionally thorough and balanced report. Among the committee's principal observations were these:

    In view of these considerations, the committee expressed its belief that the courses of action open to the university "cannot be summarized neatly with the statement that Harvard is either 'in', or 'out' of ROTC." It then outlined a range of alternatives for the future, including:

    The committee's report focused primarily on the third of these alternatives - discontinuing the fee payment to MIT, while seeking to preserve the ROTC option for individual Harvard students - since this option appeared to offer the most promising way to affirm both the principle of nondiscrimination and the desire not to preclude Harvard students from participating in ROTC and pursuing a chosen form of national service. The committee suggested two possible ways to pursue implementation of this course of action. First, MIT might be persuaded to waive the fee, while allowing Harvard students to continue their participation in ROTC. Second, the appropriate costs of Harvard students' ROTC participation might be assumed by the participants themselves, rather than paid out of FAS unrestricted funds.

    The committee report made clear that future Harvard action should be sensitive to changes in government policy regarding military service and sexual orientation. But, if government policy did not change, and if the issue of the fee payment had not been satisfactorily resolved, the committee recommended that Harvard cease to pay the MIT administrative fee - effectively dissociating itself from ROTC - for students entering in the fall of 1994 or, under certain conditions, in the fall of 1995.

*  *  *

    In the period following the special committee's report - and, in particular, during the months following the inauguration of President Clinton - the executive and legislative branches of the federal government engaged in intensive discussions concerning the issue of military service by gay and lesbian citizens. Consistent with the recommendations of the faculty-student committee, I personally wrote to both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the spring of 1993, affirming Harvard's commitment to the principle of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and urging a change in military policy. I also forwarded to each of them (as I had to the previous Secretary of Defense) a copy of the ROTC report of our faculty-student committee.

    In the summer of 1993, after considerable public debate, certain changes ere made by the executive and legislative branches in federal policy regarding military service and sexual orientation. Even as modified, however, the federal policy continues to impose discriminatory conditions. In light of these developments, as well as a May 1993 FAS faculty vote endorsing the main recommendations of Harvard's special committee, efforts were intensified to implement the committee's principal recommendations: namely, to discontinue direct university financial subvention of the program, while seeking to preserve the opportunity for individual Harvard students to participate in ROTC. This involved pursuing the possibility of a fee waiver by MIT, or of direct payment by the participating students.

    In my progress report to the FAS faculty in February 1994, I indicated that the "direct payment option" - by which the administrative fee would be paid by the students themselves - did not appear to be a feasible alternative, in view of existing contractual agreements and Defense Department policies. Nothing has happened in the intervening months to alter that conclusion. (Indeed, the faculty student committee had itself expressed some doubt in its report about the practicality of this option, citing provisions in existing ROTC agreements that prohibit the imposition of special fees on students who participate in ROTC.)

    I also reported to the faculty in February 1994 that discussions were in progress with MIT. Because those discussions were at that time incomplete, yet were proceeding in a manner that was serious and constructive, I invoked the option in the special committee's recommendations to have the ROTC fee paid for students entering in the fall of 1994, pending continued efforts to have the fee waived or suspended in future years.

    In exploring the possibility of a fee waiver, considerable effort has been devoted to understanding the origins of the ROTC administrative fee adopted in 1984. Our inquiry has shown that the fee arose in the context of a broader set of financial arrangements concerning the "balance of trade" (especially in terms of course enrollments) between MIT and Harvard. Because of significant changes in this "balance" during the years since 1984 - including the fact that the major elements of the 1984 arrangements lapsed in the late 1980s, except for the ROTC payment - there appeared to be a very reasonable case for considering a full return to the pre-1984 arrangements. (Such a return would mean no exchange of any student related fees, including ROTC.) Alternatively, an interim return to the earlier arrangements could have been achieved if MIT suspended payment of the ROTC fee for the duration of its own ROTC review. (MIT has established its own process and timetable for such a review, involving a committee that will convene in the fall of 1995.) After an extended series of thoughtful and candid discussions reaching into this autumn, the conclusion has been that MIT believes it cannot take any significant actions bearing on ROTC - including any steps that might be related to Harvard's fee payment - outside the context of its own comprehensive review.

    We are therefore left in the following situation:

  1. It is not feasible to avoid future payment of the administrative fee by asking individual students each to pay a portion of the fee themselves.
  2. Nor is it possible to expect a suspension or waiver of the MIT administrative fee at this time - or to predict what the outcome of any future discussions might be.
  3. Given the intensity and the results of the national debate in 1993, there does not appear to be any likelihood in the immediate future of further federal legislative or executive action in the direction of more open access to ROTC or military service by gay and lesbian citizens. Moreover, given recent experience, it seems unrealistic - at least in the near future - to suppose that further actions on the part of colleges and universities, designed to influence executive or legislative action on this issue, would have a tangible constructive effect.
  4. If a change in national policy is to come, therefore, it appears most likely to come through the federal courts, where several challenges to both the former and the modified federal policies are now under way. These cases provide some indication that federal policy might possibly be changed as a result of judicial action, but there is yet no clear and consistent message from the courts on this matter, and it will in all likelihood take some number of years before the issues at stake are definitively resolved.

*  *  *

    How, then, to proceed? Having carefully weighed the available alternatives, I believe that Harvard should not at this time simply terminate payment of the administrative fee, and thereby effectively foreclose the opportunity for future Harvard students to participate in ROTC. We should, however, take another step (described more fully below) toward making clear that Harvard's continued involvement with ROTC does not imply university endorsement of the present federal policy toward ROTC service by gay and lesbian students.

    In coming to this view, I have weighed a number of considerations, including the following:

    As the faculty - student committee on ROTC recognized, Harvard's relationship to ROTC is a peculiar and highly limited one: ROTC, in the committee's phrase, "is not a program offered, controlled, or administered by Harvard." It operates on another campus, and its faculty and staff are not employed by Harvard. Similarly, its programs and policies are not designed or established by Harvard, and its courses are not credit-bearing for Harvard participants. In other words, it is (in the committee's words) "unlike ordinary curricular offerings and extracurricular activities." The unusual - indeed, sui generis - character of ROTC led the committee to observe that ROTC "is not . . . squarely governed by the University's nondiscrimination policy." At the same time, as the committee further observed, the payment of the administrative fee to MIT "raises a serious question" concerning compliance with our nondiscrimination policy, and creates an "entanglement" with ROTC - one that Harvard should take all practicable steps to reduce or eliminate. Given this set of circumstances, I believe that we should continue involvement with ROTC only if satisfied both that there are very important interests served by doing so, and that we have done what we realistically can do in order to structure our limited financial involvement in a way that does not signal university endorsement of existing ROTC policies that impose discriminatory conditions on participation by gay and lesbian students.

    I believe there are at least three important interests served by preserving the opportunity for Harvard students to participate in ROTC:

    First, the value to individuals who see service in the military partly as a form of personal and professional education and development, and partly as a form of public service to the nation. The report of the special committee recognizes and affirms these benefits in its own consideration of all the issues to be weighed.

    Second, the value to the nation of being able to draw some considerable share of its officers from leading colleges and universities - especially at a time when peace-making and peace-keeping skills are almost certain to be as important in the future as purely military skills. The experience of the past few years has shown that highly educated officers, capable of exercising diplomatic and other forms of complex judgment, will be more and more necessary in the post-Cold War era. While very few individual universities are in a position to contribute substantial numbers of officers through ROTC, it is also clear that if a significant number of leading colleges and universities were to cut ties to ROTC, then the aggregate loss of broadly educated officers would be considerable in terms of the long-range qualitative as well as quantitative impact on the nation and its military services.

    Third, the value to Harvard of keeping the university community open to all students, including ROTC students, who earn admission to Harvard through the normal admissions process and who wish to attend. Severing all ties to ROTC would effectively preclude students who intend to serve in ROTC from attending Harvard and participating in the university's own educational programs. Taking this step seems especially complex because there is no reasonable prospect that by following such a course, and imposing the resultant disadvantage on prospective ROTC students, Harvard would concretely advance the objective of achieving greater opportunity for those students who are disadvantaged by current federal policy. We cannot direct government policy on access to ROTC; but we do control access to the College, the graduate and professional schools, and our own programs. One of our important institutional objectives is to continue to ensure that Harvard's own "internal" programs remain open and inclusive for all students who are offered admission and who choose to enroll.

*  *  *

    I would have preferred to be able to report to you that we had succeeded in achieving a different result in our discussions with MIT, or in our exploration of the option of direct student payments. But there is a concrete step I believe we can and should take now: one that is not identical to what was recommended by the faculty - student committee, but which comes as close to achieving the committee's objectives as I believe we practicably can, without terminating the ROTC option altogether.

    During the past year, some individual graduates of Harvard College - who are interested in finding a constructive solution to the ROTC question, and who understand the dilemma that led to the committee recommendation concerning the payment of the administrative fee - have voluntarily come forward, unsolicited, and offered to commit sufficient incremental funds to pay the administrative fee to MIT for a period of at least three to four years.* The funds would in effect be provided on a "prorated" per-student basis, to be used as restricted resources for this purpose only. They would be held in a separate special account, the sole function of which would be to receive the designated contributions and then remit the appropriate fee payment each year to MIT. Since it is not feasible to require ROTC students themselves to pay the fee, these voluntary contributions would provide through other means what the students cannot be required to provide themselves, and would do so in a way that would no longer involve support of ROTC through the unrestricted general funds available to support the university's own educational and other programs.

    This method of addressing the fee issue obviously differs from either of the two approaches suggested by the special committee. Since there is no practicable way at this time to implement either of the committee's two specific suggestions, the choice before us is whether to terminate Harvard's connection to ROTC, and therefore our students' ability to participate in the ROTC program; to continue using unrestricted general funds to pay the fee; or to acknowledge the voluntary restricted contributions - described above - as an acceptable alternative. My own view is that this last option represents the most reasonable course to follow.

    Meanwhile, I believe that we should continue our discussions with MIT concerning the 1984 interinstitutional arrangements - including specifically the ROTC fee - during the period when MIT is conducting its own comprehensive ROTC review (beginning in the fall of 1995). Our relationship with MIT is exceptionally important for many reasons, and I am hopeful that our two institutions will be able to approach the ROTC issue in a concerted and cooperative way. I do want to stress, however, that I cannot predict the outcome of such discussions.

    Finally, I recognize that the course of action I have outlined will not be satisfactory to many members of our community. Some believe deeply that a clean, definitive "break" with ROTC is the only principled way to proceed. Others believe that the distinctiveness and relative autonomy of ROTC, plus the benefits it confers, argue for its unqualified retention. Both of these points of view have been strongly advanced by thoughtful members of our community, and both deserve serious consideration and respect. I have weighed these perspectives as carefully as possible in my own deliberations. My own judgment is that the course of action described above offers the best alternative under existing circumstances, even though it does not claim to resolve the tension between the different values at stake.

    Copies of this document are being circulated to all faculty members of the FAS and to representative student groups; to the Deans of all other Faculties; to members of the Board of Overseers; and to the Corporation, which must review and pass upon any recommendations concerning this matter.

Neil L. Rudenstine


* In recent years, the annual fee has been about $30,000 $35,000 per entering class, depending on a number of variables (such as the number of students participating in ROTC in a given year).