The Ivy League Makes Peace with ROTC


The repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces won't be implemented for a few months yet, but it will immediately lead elite colleges to begin to reconcile with the military training program kicked off college campuses more than four decades ago.

Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust promised in a November joint appearance with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen at the school's Institute of Politics that the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs would return to Harvard once the Don't Ask law was repealed.

The university will "fully and formally" recognize ROTC once the ban on gays is lifted, she said. "As a further embodiment of that tradition [of service], a ROTC program open to all ought to be fully and formally present on our campus," Faust said, according to a report in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.

"I want to be the president of Harvard who sees the end of 'don't ask, don't tell' because I want to be able to take the steps to ensure that any and every Harvard student can make the honorable and admirable choice to commit him or herself to our nation's defense," she added.

ROTC was barred from operating on campus at Harvard amid the tumult of the Vietnam War in 1969.

At Yale University, College Dean Mary Miller told the student-run Yale Daily News Saturday: "We're very excited and pleased with today's results. This [decision in Congress] allows us to make the recommendations we wanted to make" to allow ROTC programs to return to the Yale campus for the first time since 1969.

Challenges remain, however, to establishing an ROTC program on Yale's campus, the paper reported, "such as the level of student interest in the program and whether it is cost-effective for ROTC to start a new unit at Yale" -- as well as questions about who would "teach military science classes" and "supervise the program."

At Columbia University in New York, a campus-wide process for bringing ROTC back has been in place since 2005, when a University Senate vote to restore the program failed over concerns with the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. A 2008 student referendum to restore the program again failed amid opposition to the Don't Ask law.

Once Obama signs DADT repeal into law -- and once students are back from winter break -- Columbia's University Senate is likely to again take up the question of restoring ROTC and renew its debate about the program, according to the Columbia Spectator.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger told Politico Saturday the repeal vote provides "the opportunity for a new era in the relationship between universities and our military services."

"This is an historic development for a nation dedicated to fulfilling its core principle of equal rights. It also effectively ends what has been a vexing problem for higher education, including at Columbia -- given our desire to be open to our military, but not wanting to violate our own core principle against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," he said.

While ROTC could well make a return at Columbia -- a university that in 1916 formed one of the first Navy ROTC detachments in the nation -- the decision-making process leading to its restoration on the upper Manhattan campus appears likely to be slower than at Ivy League schools with a less involved deliberative approach to the question.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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