ROTC is going back to Harvard after almost 40 years away. Today, university president Drew Gilpin Faust and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus will sign an agreement formally recognizing Naval ROTC's presence on campus. And while no one expects a flood of new recruits lining up in Harvard Yard, the move is being hailed by those who think American culture should be more supportive of its military.
"The lunacy has ended," declares Charleston Daily Mail columnist Don Surber. "Anything that mixes the military -- increasingly growing apart from the rest of American society as it is drawn from the same families and regions -- more with the society that it defends is a good thing," writes Time's Mark Thompson, though he's quick to add: "That's not to say, of course, that Harvard is representative of American society."
With "don't ask don't tell" soon to come off the books, and as some have predicted, Harvard is welcoming ROTC back into the fold--at least symbolically. The agreement that Faust and Mabus sign today will give ROTC funding and access to office space, athletic fields, and classrooms, but it won't actually go into effect until later this year. First, President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen need to formally certify that the repeal of DADT won't affect military readiness. Sixty days after that happens, the tap turns on for Harvard's ROTC program once more.
Commentary's Max Boot agrees with Thompson's point, saying the significance of ROTC's return is "hard to overstate." Boot calls upon other elite schools to follow Harvard's lead, and urges the military, for its part, "to accept the invitation." He acknowledges that "military recruiters know that... they will attract comparatively few recruits in the Ivy Leagues while having to commit scarce resources to the effort." But, he says, "the symbolic importance of reestablishing a connection with our top-tier universities should outweigh the cost of the commitment."
It's the first time in a few decades that relations between Harvard and the military-recruitment program have been this good. Harvard, like many other elite schools, banned ROTC from its campus during the Vietnam War. After the political objections from that war quieted down, the university doubled down on its objections, saying "don't ask don't tell" violated its rule against employers with discriminatory policies. There are currently 20 Harvard students involved in ROTC, but the program is funded entirely by anonymous donors and the students go to MIT for their ROTC activities.
Might Columbia be the next school to take Boot's advice? Yesterday, a survey was released showing that 60 percent of Columbia undergraduates would support ROTC's return to campus, while 79 percent were in favor of "Columbia allowing the participation of Columbia students in ROTC, whether on- or off-campus.” But the Manhattan blog DNAinfo reports that it's "unlikely" the military would bring ROTC back to Columbia, even if they got an invitation.