BOSTON – Harvard University is welcoming the Reserve Officer Training Corps program back to campus this week, 41 years after banishing it amid dissent over the Vietnam War.
The Cambridge, Mass., school's change in policy follows the decision by Congress in December to repeal the military ban on gays serving openly, an official familiar with the arrangement said Thursday.
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Friday are scheduled to sign an agreement that will recognize the Naval ROTC's formal presence on campus, according to the official, who wasn't allowed to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
As part of the agreement, a director of Naval ROTC at Harvard will be appointed, and the university will resume funding the program. Harvard cadets will still train at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as they have for years.
Harvard and several other prominent schools, including Stanford, Yale and Columbia, had kept the Vietnam-era ban in place following the war because of what they viewed as a discriminatory military policy forbidding gays from serving openly.
But after Congress cleared the way for the repeal of the so-called "don't ask, don't tell," policy in December, Harvard's president said she'd work toward ROTC's return.
President Barack Obama in late December signed the law to repeal the 17-year-old "don't ask don't tell" policy under which soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were required to keep their homosexuality a secret or face dismissal. Final implementation of the repeal doesn't go into effect until 60 days after the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that lifting the ban won't hurt the military's ability to fight. Part of their decision will be based on the progress of new training.
The Army's top general on Feb. 17 kicked off the service's training program on the new law allowing gays to serve openly in the military, and officials said they hope to have the whole force trained by mid-August.
Harvard, which threw ROTC off its campus in 1969, is the first prominent school to rescind its ban since December.
Harvard students have still participated in ROTC in recent years, but the school didn't fund the program and the students had to train at the nearby MIT.
A spokesman for OutServe, an underground network of gay and lesbian active duty military member, said it was "proud to welcome Harvard back to the officer training community."
"Harvard graduates have served our nation for centuries, and this is one more opportunity to serve," said spokesman Jonathan Hopkins, a veteran of three combat tours. "The more the military reflects the full diversity of our society -- including Harvard -- the more it can support our values around the world."
ROTC was founded in 1916 to ensure educated men were well-represented in the military. Students receive scholarship money in return for agreeing to military service after graduation.
ROTC was booted off numerous campuses during the Vietnam War, when student protesters said the military's presence on campus was the same as endorsing the war.
Harvard banned ROTC in 1969, then defunded the program in 1995, saying "don't ask, don't tell" violated its non-discrimination policies.
Training for Harvard cadets has been paid for by anonymous donors, and some have criticized Harvard's policy as a disgraceful lack of support for military men and women risking their lives the country's defense, though others said it was a needed stand against discrimination.
Former Harvard president Larry Summers spoke in support of ROTC, saying "every Harvard student" should be proud Harvard students were committed to ROTC.