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Harvard's Fail On The Return Of An ROTC Program

Correction. D’oh — I made a gaffe, I misgendered Harvard’s president. My deepest apologies for screwing up and using the wrong pronouns — I fixed it in my piece below. No excuse for that flub of mine. :/

Here today –Friday, March 3, 2011- I’ve been at Stanford University, speaking to staff and students about why an ROTC program shouldn’t come back to Stanford. This afternoon I gave a formal talk, explaining why lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and progressive communities should not  endorse the return of ROTC programs back to college campuses after the passage in to law of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) repeal bill.

There are three-plus-one reasons why ROTC programs shouldn’t return to college campuses. The three reasons are as follows:

• As currently proposed, implementation of open service for LGB servicemembers won’t include an explicit antidiscrimination policy.

•  As currently proposed, implementation of open service for LGB servicemembers won’t include partner benefits — such as healthcare coverage, exchange and commissary benefits, and partner relocation costs for change of duty station moves.

• Repeal of DADT will not result in transgender people being able to serve openly in the military services.

And the “plus one” reason is this:

It’s premature to welcome back ROTC programs when lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers are still under DADT rules; are still not able to as yet serve openly. Discussion of whether ROTC programs should return to college campuses should wait until LGB servicemembers are able to serve openly, not just on a promise they will be allowed to serve openly soon.

So  this morning it was a disappointment — a fail — to learn that the President of Harvard University has made the decision that an ROTC program should be welcomed back to Harvard. From the Time‘s ROTC Back at Harvard After Skipping Class For 40 Years:

Good news that Harvard is set to recognize ROTC today after nearly 40 years. Originally booted off campus because of opposition to the Vietnam War, Harvard University and many other elite colleges kept the Reserve Officer Training Corps away following the U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam in 1973, and Saigon’s fall to the North Vietnamese communists in 1975, because they didn’t like the military or its mission.

Then, after Congress passed a law barring openly gay men and women from serving in uniform in 1993, the schools grabbed for the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” excuse to keep ROTC and other military events off campus — even though the military had no choice but to obey the law. But now that Congress, under pressure from President Obama, has decided to lift the ban, all is forgiven.

Later today, Harvard is set to recognize the Navy’s ROTC program, which funds students’ educations in exchange for their agreement to serve in uniform after they graduate. “Our renewed relationship affirms the vital role that the members of our armed forces play in serving the nation and securing our freedoms, while also affirming inclusion and opportunity as powerful American ideals,” Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust says.

Added Navy Secretary (and Harvard Law graduate) Ray Mabus: “NROTC’s return to Harvard is good for the university, good for the military, and good for the country.” The other services are discussing bringing their programs back to Harvard’s Cambridge, Mass., campus as well. In recent decades, Harvard students wanting to belong to ROTC have had to travel to the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology to train.

Here at Stanford, there was already a response in the Stanford’s Fiat Lux article Harvard Announces Return of ROTC:

Alok Vaid-Menon, president of Stanford Students for Queer Liberation, in a message to the SSQL chat-list, responded that he was “speechless,” not only at the decision, but at the lack of transparency with which the decision was made.

Harvard was never transparent about the procedure they were adopting for this question. Last time they had a vote by the faculty. This time it seems like the President made a decision himself. This is a violation of student rights and faculty rights and is in direct violation of Harvard’s non-discrimination clause.

I called our Harvard contact today and he said he met with the administration last week and they said they appreciated his “transgender argument” because it would foster interesting debate. The administration was very unclear about what procedure they were taking to address this issue. Essentially, the President made this decision behind closed doors without critically engaging with the perspectives of the Harvard community.

Tomorrow activists at Stanford are demonstrating in front of the President’s Office.

I stand in solidarity with them and condemn Harvard’s President for violating his own non-discrimination clause.

There’s more in the Stanford Daily‘s Case brought against ASSU ROTC advisory bill for how Stanford is handling their situation.

If there is ever a case to be made for community building at college campuses — getting broad support for several organizations, such as students of color organizations, student feminist organizations, and students with  disability organizations — to find commonalities between the members of these antidiscrimination focused organizations, as well as individual members at the intersections of two or more of these organizations…well, it’s now the time to make this happen. A coalition focused on fostering ordinary equality for all of humanity speaking out on antidiscrimination — that would be a coalition with much moral authority. In my mind, it’s well past time to remind people that equality is about the broad us of humanity, and not about the individual “me’s” and the “those who share my particular demographics.”

The president of Harvard was wrong in signing with the U.S. Navy to open a new ROTC program on campus; the president of Harvard came down  on the wrong side of ordinary equality…the wrong side of history. Her decision was a complete fail.

I’m hoping Stanford comes down on the right side of history.

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Autumn Sandeen

Autumn Sandeen