BOSTON — Harvard University officially welcomed the ROTC back Friday as other elite campuses considered whether to lift their decades-old bans now that Congress has voted to allow gays to serve openly in the military.
Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus signed an agreement that establishes the Naval ROTC's formal presence at the nation's oldest college for the first time since the Vietnam War era. Other schools, including Columbia, Yale and Brown, are discussing whether to follow suit.
"Both the American military and higher education have been engines of inclusion and wellsprings of service," Faust said during the ceremony. "The relationship we renew today marks progress in that common pursuit."
The Reserve Officers' Training Corps first left Harvard and other prominent universities amid anti-Vietnam War sentiment, and schools lately kept it off campus because of the military's policy on gays, which they considered discriminatory. But Faust began working toward ROTC's return after Congress repealed the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy in December.
The 17-year-old policy requires soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to keep their homosexuality a secret or face dismissal.
The White House praised Harvard's decision to reintroduce the ROTC.
"With our nation at war, this sends a powerful message that Americans stand united and that our colleges, society and armed forces are stronger when we honor the contributions of all our citizens," press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
About 30 students from the Trans Task Force, a student group that advocates for transgendered students, chanted and held protest signs outside the ceremony, saying Harvard shouldn't bring back the ROTC because the military still doesn't allow the transgendered to serve.
"There's no way ROTC should be on the campus," said group member Jia Hui Lee, 22, a junior. "It conflicts with Harvard values, or at least the values it claims to have."
Under Harvard's agreement with the Navy, a director of Naval ROTC at Harvard will be appointed, the university will resume funding it and the program will be given office space and access to athletic fields and classrooms.
Harvard cadets will still train as part of a consortium based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also located in Cambridge, near Boston.