Blueprint for Harvard ROTC

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff addresses the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard Univeristy in Cambridge, Mass. on Nov. 17, 2010. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

Harvard President Drew Faust and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen made strong statements of support for Harvard ROTC on 17 November 2010.  Their support raises two important questions: what do they mean by support for Harvard ROTC, and how can we translate such support into reality.

Faust began by introducing Mullen before his talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  She gave a strong endorsement for having an ROTC program on the Harvard campus:

It is my personal belief that Harvard has a responsibility to this nation and its citizens, a responsibility it has embraced since the earliest days of the Republic, with a long tradition of service and more Medal of Honor recipients than any other institution of higher education other than the service academies.  We continue to honor that tradition through initiatives like the National Security Fellows here at the Kennedy School and in our tuition assistance for more than 75 veterans across the university in the Yellow Ribbon Program.  It is my belief that as a further embodiment of that tradition an ROTC program open to all ought to be fully and formally present on our campus.  For it is also my belief that gays and lesbians should have full rights as citizens, including the privilege and the honor of military service … 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 is able to make the honorable and admirable choice to commit him or herself to the nation’s defense.

After Mullen’s speech, he was asked how the military would respond, and said:

I think it is incredibly important to have ROTC units at institutions like this.  I think President Faust has made it very clear and I certainly would do all in my power to make that happen.

Both of these statements are very important.  Faust’s statement is important because it address the question of whether opposition to the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law was merely “a smokescreen for antimilitary bias” on campus, a concern voiced by Harvard professor Ruth R. Wisse.  Wisse is undoubtedly right about some faculty members, but President Faust has now made clear that she and others are sincere in their support for ROTC and intend to act on that support.

Similarly, Mullen’s statement is important because there are doubts about whether the military would offer ROTC units to Harvard.  It costs more to educate an ROTC student at Harvard and there are concerns about how many Harvard students would join ROTC.  Furthermore, the military remembers that Harvard effectively barred ROTC in 1969 and remembers “Harvard’s 40-Years of Anti-Army ROTC Rhetoric“.  Mullen’s statement is important in announcing that he is willing to work with Faust to transcend that bitterness.

Mullen is not alone recognizing the value of graduates of top colleges serving in the military.  Gen. David Petraeus has spoken many times of the key roles played by Harvard ROTC graduates in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Barack Obama, in a 11 September 2008 campaign appearance at Columbia University, stressed the importance of service by graduates of top colleges.  In response to a question about whether elite universities that excluded ROTC should invite it back on campus, he said “Yes … the notion that young people here at Columbia or anywhere, in any university, aren’t offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake”.

To implement the vision of Faust, Mullen, Petraeus and Obama, we need to flesh out the specifics by outlining a blueprint for Harvard ROTC.

A key constraint is the law governing ROTC, the ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964.  Its provisions should not block Faust’s efforts; they include the following:

No unit may be established or maintained at an institution unless the senior commissioned officer of the armed force concerned who is assigned to the program at that institution is given the academic rank of professor… and the institution adopts, as a part of its curriculum, a four-year course of military instruction … which the Secretary of the military department concerned prescribes and conducts.

The faculty appointment issue has been solved well at universities comparable to Harvard.  At MIT, ROTC leaders are designated as “visiting professors”.  At Princeton, ROTC professors are assigned “a rank equivalent to the senior academic rank of professor“.  Both these formulations satisfy the law without undermining the status of regular tenured professors.

The courses of instruction issue has also been solved in ways that fit with the values of comparable universities.  Although it is claimed that “the University would also have to grant credit for ROTC coursework” there is no such requirement in the law.  Indeed, Princeton has announced that “credit would not be provided at Princeton” for ROTC courses, despite language in the 1972 Army-Princeton agreement that “academic credit for military professional subjects will be judged by the institution under the same procedure and criteria as for other institutional courses”.

The Princeton arrangement demonstrates a basic model on which the university and the military can agree.  More importantly, efforts at Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia have pointed the way towards an ROTC+ model that builds on the basic model by making available high quality courses valued by both the university and the military.  These ROTC+ efforts have been of two types:

  • Regular faculty arranging ROTC credit: Harvard professors such as Henry Kissinger and Stephen Rosen have taught courses that were coordinated with the military and received ROTC as well as Harvard credit.  This model can be expanded; although universities have significant gaps in areas of interest to the military, departments are glad for opportunities to hire top scholars to cover important areas.
  • ROTC faculty arranging university credit: Columbia has discussed having regular university departments co-sponsor ROTC courses deemed worthy of academic credit.  With a similar vision, the Army has sent ROTC leaders with PhDs to Princeton, positioning them to have joint appointments in regular departments.

Under these models, some courses could be offered with joint Harvard and ROTC credit.  Creating an ROTC+ model in which ROTC students get courses in military history, international relations, game theory and anthropology provides to the military a “laboratory of the universities”, and also enhances the course offerings of the university.  ROTC+ offers capabilities that are a plus both to the university and the military.

Faust spoke of ROTC “on our campus” and Mullen spoke of ROTC “at institutions like this”.  Although that could mean an ROTC building at Harvard, in the nearer term it could mean formal recognition of the participation of Harvard students in ROTC at MIT and implementation of the ROTC+ vision.  It could also mean an intermediate option such as suggested by the military in 2004 to “post a Captain and a Sergeant on campus, in the Yard, with access, and University support”.  What happens will depend on the number of ROTC students, and the number of ROTC students will depend on what happens.  The warm endorsements of ROTC by Faust and Mullen are an important step in the “virtuous circle” towards ROTC+ at Harvard.

Military leaders often stress that a vision is important, but 90% of the effort is in implementation.  A lot depends on the degree to which the university, the military and the alumni are willing to implement an ROTC+ vision.

The university is unlikely to move towards the ROTC+ vision until there is some reform of DADT.  It is difficult to predict what Congress will do when it receives the Pentagon report on DADT on 30 November.  Most discussion has focused on the position of some key stakeholders that 0% of military units should be gay-friendly and and on the position of others that 100% of units should be gay-friendly.  However, some on Capitol Hill prefer a centrist option in which the Pentagon would be given authority open up units based on their infrastructure for gender privacy, an approach similar to that used for integration of women into units.  If such an incremental centrist approach is taken, the universities will need to decide whether to accept that in the spirit that they’ve accepted the non-100% solution for women in the military.  A lot will depend on follow-through by people such as Faust in moving the issue forward.

The military will have people who say not to bother with the costs or “high maintenance” of top universities.  A lot will depend on the follow-through by people such as Mullen, Petraeus and Obama in stressing the benefits of ROTC+ and service by graduates of top universities, and a lot will depend on calls from leaders in all areas of society for students at top universities to serve.

Alumni will also be crucial.  Harvard alumni have a strong voice in both the university and in government.  Alumni are crucial in encouraging students to apply to Harvard and encouraging them to do ROTC.  Alumni are also crucial in transcending bean-counter arguments and providing resources to achieve important goals.  Many alumni feel strongly about ROTC.  When Harvard restored an ROTC option in 1976 by allowing students to do ROTC at MIT, the Harvard Crimson wrote an editorial opposing ROTC, but an impressive group of 10 editors, including Steven Ballmer ’77 and Grover Norquist ’78 wrote a dissenting editorial supporting ROTC.

Senator Robert F. Kennedy ’48 often cited a George Bernard Shaw quote “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”  We need a similar attitude in preparing a blueprint for Harvard ROTC.  We need to move past the bitterness of 1969 and look past the DADT issue of today.  We should dream of having a “Steven Ballmer professor of Game Theory” who teaches a course that gets ROTC credit.  We should dream of what such new faculty can do for Harvard, and how such an ROTC+ approach can benefit the military and the country.

3 thoughts on “Blueprint for Harvard ROTC

  1. [...] robust and successful ROTC program on campus. Fortunately, Michael Segal at Secure Nation has some great suggestions as to how universities and the military can work together to enhance the ROTC curriculum, providing [...]

  2. [...] Recommended reading: Blueprint for Harvard ROTC [...]

  3. [...] robust and successful ROTC program on campus. Fortunately, Michael Segal at Secure Nation has some great suggestions as to how universities and the military can work together to enhance the ROTC curriculum, providing [...]

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