BOSTON — Harvard University officially welcomed the ROTC back to the nation's oldest college 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 on campus 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."
ROTC first left Harvard and other prominent universities amid anti-Vietnam War sentiment, and schools lately kept it off campus because of military 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 But Faust began working toward ROTC's return after Congress repealed the so-called don't ask, don't tell policy in December.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 required soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to keep their homosexuality a secret or face dismissal
Mabus commended Harvard after the ceremony for being "willing to step out and lead". During his official remarks, he said the military must strive to reflect the nation it protects.
"it does not serve our country well if any part of society does not share in the honor of its defense," Mabus said.
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. That's a violation of Harvard's nondiscrimination policy, they said.
"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. Currently, 20 Harvard students participate in ROTC, including 10 involved in Naval ROTC.
Harvard voted to withhold academic credit from ROTC in 1969, and the program left the campus a few years later. Harvard then stopped funding the program in 1995 because of the don't ask, don't tell policy, but anonymous donors stepped up.
Harvard is the first elite school to agree to rescind its ban since December. Mabus said he hoped other schools would follow Harvard's lead.
"I really hope that they see it the same way Harvard has seen it — an opening up of opportunity," he said. "It's not a new thing. It's simply re-establishing some very old ties."
Leaders at Columbia University have been meeting on the issue and are expected to vote by the end of the academic year, the university said Friday. Columbia students can participate in ROTC programs at nearby Fordham University and Manhattan College, but a school spokesman said few of them do.
On Friday, Sen. John Kerry called on Yale University to follow Harvard's lead and welcome ROTC back.
The Massachusetts Democrat, a Vietnam veteran, said in a letter to the president of his alma mater that Ivy League universities created a new injustice when they turned away ROTC to protest the now-defunct ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Yale spokeswoman Suzanne Taylor Muzzin said Friday that officials are "actively involved" in discussions with the military about reviving ROTC on campus, but aren't sure when a decision might be made.
Stanford University barred ROTC from campus in 1973 as strong anti-war sentiments and anger over the military's ban on gays and lesbians took root. But it's reconsidering amid changing views of the military among some students since Sept. 11 and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
In recent months, a Stanford faculty committee has sponsored meetings to discuss bringing the program back, and the committee is expected to make a recommendation in May. Some faculty members have complained that the military coursework undermines the university's academic independence.
Under the agreement signed at Harvard, "full and formal" recognition of ROTC comes once the repeal of don't ask, don't tell takes effect. That's expected later this year, shortly after commanders and officials certify the new policy won't hurt the military's fighting ability.
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. In 1926, Harvard became one of the original six schools to partner with Naval ROTC.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Ula Ilnytzky in New York, Russell Contreras in Boston, Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco and Mike Melia in Hartford, Conn.