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Harvard's ROTC reversal a sign of changing campus

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  March 4, 2011 04:57 PM

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Two months after Congress passed legislation ending the military's ban on gays serving openly, Harvard signed an agreement with the Navy today to re-establish ties with Naval ROTC.

Harvard has not had official ties to ROTC in four decades, a rupture often portrayed as symbolic of the estrangement of liberal elite institutions with the military.

But though Harvard claims the new policy on gays triggered today's move, the agreement actually says little about changes at the Pentagon — and a lot about the changing political climate at Harvard.

The faculty evicted ROTC from campus amid anti-Vietnam protests in 1969. Basing the policy on the military's exclusion of gays came later, and justified continuing the ban once Vietnam was long over. And if general campus sentiment still opposed the military's presence, there's little doubt Harvard could have found another reason to keep ROTC out — the military's policy on transgender service members, for instance.

But two successive presidents, Larry Summers and Drew Faust, have tried to make Harvard more welcoming to the miltiary, and the issue stopped resonating with students long ago. (Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of the excluding the military because of a policy outside its control only became more glaring, as Harvard continued to roll out the red carpet over the years for such model citizens as Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs.)

Put another way, the campus politics of Love Story — or even With Honors — were increasingly an anachronism on the campus of The Social Network.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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