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 But Faust began working toward ROTC's return after Congress repealed the so-called don't ask, don't tell policy in December.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.
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."
At Brown University, a committee appointed last month by President Ruth Simmons began evaluating whether Brown's on-campus ban of ROTC should stand. But a coalition of students and professors opposes a return for various reasons, including concerns about the military, which its website calls a "notoriously violent and sexist institution."
English professor William Keach, a member of The Brown Coalition Against Special Privileges for ROTC, noted that don't ask, don't tell remains in effect for now and said it's premature "to automatically assume that homophobia in the U.S. military has disappeared."
He added that the decision by a school as influential as Harvard signals a tough fight ahead.
"We feel a kind of new sense of challenge, that we've really got to step up and take this on," he said.
Columbia University leaders have been meeting about ROTC 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.
Stanford University barred ROTC from campus in 1973, 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 about 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. On Friday, the school also noted its graduates include 17 Medal of Honor winners.
Harvard Naval ROTC midshipman Christopher Curtis said the school's military legacy gave added meaning to ROTC's return to campus.
"Having that officially recognized as something that we represent ... is something that I can sit back and really just say, 'Wow, I'm serving my country the best way I can,'" he said.
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.