Yale Weighs ROTC Decision as Ivy League Schools Restore Programs

Yale University may become the third Ivy League college this year to restore the military’s Reserve Officers Training Corps after spurning the program during the Vietnam War.

Harvard University, the oldest U.S. college, said last month that it will reinstate a Navy ROTC program, and Columbia University in New York said April 22 that it will “re-engage” with the military in a similar arrangement. Yale faculty will vote May 5 on a committee’s recommendation that the school again recognize ROTC.

The colleges, members of the Ivy League of eight elite northeastern U.S. schools, are reaching out to the military after Congress voted in December to repeal the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibiting open homosexuality. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, also helped raise awareness of the contributions and sacrifices made by service members, said Graham Allison, formerly an adviser to the U.S. Defense Secretary in the Clinton administration.

“If you ask most people today whether they’re grateful for the ways in which the U.S. military is enhancing their security, they’d say yes,” said Allison, who is now director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs in a telephone interview. “The military is popular.”

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, kept their ROTC programs on campus through the war.

Yale’s 1969 Actions

As protests intensified against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the faculty at Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut, decided in 1969 and 1970 to take away academic credit for ROTC courses and strip the program’s teachers of their faculty titles. Yale also pulled funding for administering ROTC on campus. Since then, Yale students have performed officer training at the University of Connecticut in Storrs or the University of New Haven, said Thomas Conroy, a spokesman for Yale.

Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Columbia, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, all took similar steps in the Vietnam era. While Dartmouth began restoring its ROTC program in 1975, the other four colleges maintained their bans, citing the military’s policy on homosexuality. Days after Congress voted to repeal the 1993 rule on gays, Harvard President Drew Faust, a Civil War historian whose father, grandfather and brother all served in the military, said she would move to welcome ROTC back to campus.

Military service is “an honorable and admirable calling, a powerful expression of an individual citizen’s commitment to contribute to the common good,” Faust said March 3 at a ceremony to mark its agreement with the Navy.

Levin’s Statements

Yale President Richard Levin said in January that he spoke with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about returning ROTC to the campus. Discussions with the military are continuing, Conroy said.

Brown President Ruth Simmons appointed a panel to make recommendations on how to proceed on ROTC in February. The panel published a two-page series of questions and answers in the April 25 issue of the Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper, saying that the Navy ROTC program is interested in returning to the college, probably through a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Stanford Decision Pending

ROTC may also return to Stanford University near Palo Alto, California, where the faculty senate voted 28-9 yesterday, with three abstentions, to invite the program back to campus, according to the Stanford Daily student newspaper. Of about 7,000 Stanford undergraduates, 14 students participate in ROTC through programs at the University of California, Berkeley, and other area colleges, said Lisa Lapin, a Stanford spokeswoman.

While the programs’ reinstatement represents a successful “beachhead,” much more work needs to be done to successfully re-establish a military presence at Harvard and other Ivy League campuses, said Paul Mawn, chairman of Advocates for Harvard ROTC.

“In general, there aren’t enough ROTC students at Ivy League schools to justify programs,” Mawn said. “They have to take a more proactive stance of promoting ROTC, as Harvard has done in the past.”

Institutions of higher education should enroll more ROTC students as part of their efforts to increase campus diversity, said Mawn, a retired U.S. Navy captain. More Ivy League colleges can create a positive campus environment for ROTC students by seeking applications from military veterans, as Columbia and Dartmouth have done, he said. The universities should also bring back Army and Air Force ROTC programs, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net

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