The lifting of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has already paid one major dividend: Harvard has now agreed to a return of ROTC on campus after more than 40 years. The move is mainly symbolic, since ROTC cadets at Harvard will continue having to go to MIT to train, but its significance is hard to overstate. It is a small but important step to bridge the widening chasm that has grown up since the Vietnam War between the military and the citizens it protects — especially the elites who run our country but who seldom have served in uniform. (A failing to which I plead guilty as well.)
Now it is high time for other elite institutions that have been dragging their feet — that means you, Columbia; you too, Stanford — to invite ROTC back on campus. And it is equally important for the armed forces to accept the invitation.
You would think the military would be eager for entree to our best campuses, but not so. Military recruiters know that their best bets are at large public universities in the South and Midwest; they will attract comparatively few recruits in the Ivy Leagues while having to commit scarce resources to the effort. This is the reason why the Army, for instance, has said it will not send ROTC back to Columbia even if invited to do so and why so far Naval ROTC is the only program being established at Harvard. I can understand the viewpoint of the services but believe they are being parochial. The symbolic importance of reestablishing a connection with our top-tier universities should outweigh the cost of the commitment.