|At an ROTC ceremony, Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust criticized the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. (MARK WILSON/GLOBE STAFF)|
CAMBRIDGE - Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust took issue with the military's ban against openly gay and lesbian members in an ROTC commissioning ceremony in Harvard Yard yesterday, as she commended newly minted military officers for choosing to serve their country.
Faust, a Civil War historian who became Harvard's president last July, did not explicitly mention the policy, but made her opposition clear by framing military service throughout American history as not only a profound sacrifice, but a coveted civil right that had given immigrants, African-Americans, and women "a pathway to full participation in American life."
"The freedoms we enjoy depend vitally on the service you and your forebears have undertaken in our behalf," Faust told an audience of about 200 who saw five Harvard students recognized for their training and three officially receive their military appointments. "Indeed, I wish that there were more of you. I believe that every Harvard student should have the opportunity to serve in the military, as you do, and as those honored in the past have done."
Harvard has banned the Reserve Officers' Training Corps from campus since the Vietnam era, a restriction that forces students to train at MIT and that critics contend reflects a broader hostility to the military at the Ivy League institution.
Faust had previously announced her plans to speak out against the armed forces controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which excludes openly gay individuals.
The news drew criticism in some circles, most notably in a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, for politicizing the graduation ceremony and using a military forum to denounce Pentagon policies.
But Faust unmistakably conveyed yesterday that her opposition in no way diminished her admiration for military service.
"You have our respect for your choices, our admiration for your commitment, and our deep gratitude for your willingness to confront dangers on the nation's behalf in the months and years to come," she said.
In 2002, Faust's predecessor, Lawrence H. Summers, became the first Harvard president since 1969 to address the commissioning ceremony and was an outspoken proponent of the program. Harvard does not fund the training program, which is supported by an alumni trust.
Faust said the school boasts a proud tradition of military service, pointing out that during World War I Harvard established one of the first ROTC programs in the country and that Harvard Yard contains several memorials to Harvard's soldiers and officers.
Faust pointedly remarked that just as universities are committed to the "availability of opportunity based on merit, to the full inclusion of all in our hopes and possibilities," the military has traditionally served as a "pathway to full participation in American life."
Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.