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Let the ROTC return to Ivy League campuses

By PHILIP GAILEY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 14, 2001


Once again American military men and women are risking their lives, this time in the war against terrorism. They are in the thoughts and prayers of the American people, but they are personae non grata on the campuses of most of the nation's Ivy League universities. At these elite schools, diversity does not include students in military uniform.

Since the height of the Vietnam War, ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) has been banished from Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Brown, Yale and Darmouth. Princeton has a small Army ROTC presence, but only Cornell has all ROTC branches represented on campus. Most of these universities accept ROTC scholarship money, not to mention Defense Department research dollars, but they refuse to allow ROTC cadets to train on their campuses. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Yale ROTC students have to drive 75 miles to the University of Connecticut for training. At Harvard, 43 Army, Navy and Air Force cadets must travel to nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology to fulfill their ROTC requirements. Alumni donors pay the cost of training Harvard cadets at MIT, about $135,000 a year.

Moreover, ROTC recruiters are not allowed to approach students on the Harvard campus. They have to make their pitch by mail, while student groups such as the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Supporters Alliance, the Harvard Boxing Club and the Harvard Peace Project are permitted to solicit on campus, according to the Journal.

ROTC, as everyone knows, was a casualty of the Vietnam War. Ivy League schools wanted nothing to do with the U.S. military, which was judged for the sins of the politicians who conducted the war, among them some of the best and brightest from the Ivy League. More recently, their excuse has been the military's ban on homosexuals. In 1995, when the Clinton administration announced its "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the Harvard faculty voted not only to continue the ban on ROTC but also to cut off all university funding for the program.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, some Harvard alumni, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, are asking their alma mater to reconsider its ban on ROTC. That's about as likely as Osama bin Laden's conversion to Christianity. "The cadets have been treated as if Harvard wants nothing to do with them," David Clayman, chairman of a group called Advocates of Harvard ROTC, told the Journal. "We don't want them to feel they have to be hidden anymore."

In a recent poll conducted by the Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper, 69 percent of the student body was in favor of going to war against the terrorists who attacked America. However, only 38 percent of Harvard undergraduates said they were willing to take part in military action themselves. The Crimson editors observed that too many Harvard students favor war "only as long as they can continue to sit comfortably in Cambridge."

The Ivy League campuses were not always so hostile to the military. "It was not coincidental that college students volunteered in large numbers during World War II," Herbert London, a humanities professor at New York University, recently wrote. "Nor was it coincidental that the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) was composed almost entirely of Yalies."

ROTC, it turns out, was not the only casualty of the Vietnam War at Harvard College. According to a recent report in the Boston Globe, Harvard's "dirty little secret" is that since the Vietnam era, "rampant grade inflation has made its top prize -- graduating with honors -- virtually meaningless."

Last June, the Globe study found, a record 91 percent of Harvard students graduated summa, magna, or cum laude, compared to 51 percent at Yale and 44 percent at Princeton. The Harvard honors program, the newspaper said, has become the "laughingstock of the Ivy League."

Harvard documents examined by the Globe indicate that "Vietnam and the protest movements of the '60s led to an increase in lax grading campuswide, and that the faculty never recovered. Harry Lewis, the current dean of Harvard College, wrote in one e-mail that humanities professors today can't tell an A paper from a B paper, partly because of a "collapse of critical judgment.' "

A key factor in grade inflation was faculty opposition to the Vietnam War, especially among graduate-student teaching assistants. "Vietnam-era draft boards panicked Harvard students and teachers, so that inflated grades became the moral equivalent of opposition to the war, helping prevent all but 19 Harvard College men from dying in Southeast Asia," the Globe reported.

One of the greatest challenges for Harvard's new president, former deputy Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers, will be to bring the Vietnam War to an end on his campus. He could start by making undergraduates who wear the uniforms of their nation's armed services feel welcome.

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