Harvard Commissions First ’Scholar Soldiers’ Since DADT Repeal

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday May 27, 2011

Harvard University commissioned the first "scholar soldiers"--Harvard students who belong to the ROTC--since Congress voted to repeal the anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law from 1993 that requires GLBT patriots to serve in silence or be tossed out of the military.

Because of DADT, Harvard had no choice but to view the United States Armed Forces as an employer that practiced anti-gay workplace discrimination. That made the university's administration unable to invite military recruiters onto the campus or to host the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). (Military recruiters were still able to come onto campus at the invitation of student groups.)

The conflict was not limited to Harvard's administrative rules, however. Congress sought to punish schools like Harvard through denial of federal funds unless they allowed recruiters access to their students.

The ripples were even felt in last year's Supreme Court nomination process, when former dean of the Harvard Law School Elena Kagan was accused by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of harming the military. Asked about Kagan on CNN, Sessions sought to depict her as a Harvard administrator who implemented a policy to exclude military recruiters even as American servicemembers were dying by the thousand to "protect Harvard's right to exist."

"What happened was, a number of law schools, Harvard being, I think, a leader, when she was there, would not allow the military recruiters to come on to the law school to recruit JAG officers for the military because she didn't agree with the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy," said Sessions. "We had a thousand soldiers killed defending free speech and the right of Harvard to exist... during that period of time, so I think that that is something that would be asked [of Kagan during confirmation hearings]."

Sessions added that Kagan "felt that ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] was discriminatory, but it was the established policy of the United States... and she could work to change that, but I don't think it was acceptable... for her to say, 'You can't even come on our campus because I disagree with your policy.' "

Supporters of Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court pointed out that Kagan had remained within the law at every point, allowing military recruiters on campus when a federal law came into effect that would have denied funds from the U.S. Government to colleges and universities that denied recruiters access, and withdrawing that privilege from military recruiters when a federal court struck the law down.

When the U.S. Supreme Court--the same bench to which Kagan eventually was confirmed--reinstated the law, Kagan allowed recruiters on the Harvard campus once more.

When Congress voted to repeal DADT late last year, however, that conflict vanished, and Harvard--along other elite colleges and universities--lifted the ban on military recruiters. Harvard welcomed the first few post-DADT repeal ROTC officers on May 25, the day of Harvard's graduation ceremonies, reported Harvard Magazine in an article from the same day.

Harvard President Drew Faust announced the commissioning of four Harvard ROTC officers, telling them, "I hope that your place in a long and newly invigorated Harvard tradition of military service and sacrifice supports and inspires you in the months and years to come."

Another Ivy League school announced that the ROTC would be welcome back on the same day as the Harvard ROTC commissioning, according to a May 25 Associated Press article. Columbia University and the United States Navy agreed that the ROTC would be allowed back on the Columbia campus after a vote last month from the school's students and faculty. The repeal of DADT was the deciding factor in Columbia's decision. The agreement between the school and the Navy was formalized with the signing of a contract on board a U.S. Navy vessel, the USS Iwo Jima, on May 26.

A Navy spokesperson said that branch of the service was "looking forward to... the continued partnership with Columbia."

"I have confidence that, with the return of ROTC, Columbia will be an even more valuable forum for enhancing the relationship between our military and civil society in the years ahead," wrote the school's president, Lee C. Bollinger, in an April 22 letter to the university's community.

"Our university community has held months of campus discussion, open forums and a strongly favorable vote in the University Senate and University's Council of Deans, concluding that the time has come for Columbia to formalize the recognition of ROTC on our campus and thereby add to the diversity of choices for education and public service we make available to our students," a May 25 statement from Columbia spokesperson Robert Hornsby said.

The Navy reached a similar agreement with Yale, another Ivy League school, the AP reported on May 26.

"The renewal of a formal relationship with Yale will serve to bring dozens of new and talented officers who will carry on Yale's tradition of service into the Navy and Marine Corps each year," said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. "The presence of NROTC will enrich and strengthen both the military and the educational experience of all students."

"The new Navy ROTC unit at Yale continues the university's proud tradition of educating students who serve our country's armed forces," said Yale President Richard Levin. "From Lexington to Afghanistan, our students and graduates have contributed to the nation's defense, and the return of NROTC will make it easier for the most talented young men and women who aspire to leadership in our military to gain a Yale education."

Although Congress did vote to repeal the ban on openly gay military personnel, DADT is still in effect until the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Defense Secretary all certify that the military is ready to accept openly gay and lesbian patriots in the ranks. Republican lawmakers have proposed various amendments to the already-approved legislation that could delay or derail the ban's repeal.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.