ROTC returns to Harvard: Does officer training program need Ivy League?
Harvard's ROTC re-embrace may herald a more representative military – if such programs multiply in the Ivy League and beyond.
When Harvard put out the welcome mat earlier this month to reestablish a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, it signaled a thawing of chilly relations between the military and elite universities that date back to the Vietnam War.Skip to next paragraph
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In recent years, the key reason for objections to a military presence on campus had been the armed forces' "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays and lesbians, which Congress repealed in December. Now, several other universities also appear poised to reopen their doors to Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) programs – a military scholarship system with its own set of instructors that prepares students to become officers in various service branches when they graduate.
Such moves resonate symbolically. But it's an open question whether the military and more elite universities will really set up programs that make a practical dent in what is increasingly seen as a problematic civilian-military divide.
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"ROTC has shifted to the South and the Midwest ... so as a result, we're getting an officer corps that's less representative of the country as a whole," says Cheryl Miller, who has researched ROTC as manager of the American Enterprise Institute's Program on American Citizenship in Washington. Now "you have this really big moment which the military could use or could squander," she says.
In a speech last fall at Duke University in Durham, N.C., Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted, "There is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally, and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend."
He pointed to the concentration of ROTC programs in rural areas and regions where historically there's a greater propensity to join the military. Alabama has 10 ROTC programs, for example, while Los Angeles, with a population more than twice that of Alabama's, has just four.
Now may be a difficult moment for the military to branch out at universities, however.
Army ROTC programs are on track to meet a goal of producing 5,350 second lieutenants for this fiscal year, which accounts for 60 percent of the Army's new officers at that rank. Given that, and an environment of fiscal constraint, the Army "is not necessarily looking to expand [ROTC]," says Lt. Col. Matt Hackathorn, a public affairs officer for the Army's Cadet Command. But the Army likes to keep lines of communication open with universities interested in hosting a program, he adds.