Militarization: Coming Soon To A Campus Near You (Part I)

As already noted, though today’s reports of a political intelligence unit within HUPD are disturbing, they aren’t shocking. Considering recent patterns of militarization–from the ongoing “war on terror” farce and its criminalities, to federal strangleholds on civil liberties, to local Cambridge moves toward beefing up police weaponry–transforming Harvard’s campus into a conflict zone is no aberration, but a sign of the times.

What does it mean, though, to describe a campus as “militarizing?” Can we make such claims about our environments without coming off like weirdo conspiracy theorists? To provide some historical context, here’s a little background on more instances of police and military involvement on campus. The series will include documentation of one recent incident of police brutality right outside a Harvard dorm. Decide for yourself whether it’s troubling.

military research

Part I: Dependency Issues

In August 2002, then-Dean Robert Clark issued a memo to the Harvard Law School (HLS) community that included this remarkable admission of ethical defeat:

In the end, the decision to allow the military to recruit on campus recognizes the extraordinary impact a prohibition of recruitment through OCS would have had on the University. I believe a significant majority of the Law School’s students, faculty and staff oppose all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation. At the same time, most of us reluctantly accept the reality that this University cannot afford the loss of federal funds. Harvard University, one of the nation’s premier research institutions, would be adversely impacted by the abrupt termination of millions of dollars in federal funding. To say that this decision is just about money trivializes the significance these funds have on students’ educations, faculty careers, and scientific research that can lead to cures to life-threatening illnesses and debilitating diseases.

Harvard’s dependency on federal funding has grown so great as to compromise our ability, as a community, to stand by our moral principles. We’re certainly not alone in this dilemma: research universities across the country are intimately linked with federal military programs, and a 2006 unanimous SCOTUS decision requires schools that accept government money to admit military recruiters.

It’s important to remember that the military and institutions of higher learning weren’t always such BFF. US universities operated far more independently until WWII, when ambient hawkishness crystallized in government-sponsored programs that steered campus research facilities toward weapons technology development. They’ve stayed on track ever since, exchanging R&D–military and non-military–for stable financing.

It’s this context that helps explain HLS’s decision to renege on its nearly 40-year commitment to equal opportunity employment, reluctantly permitting the Air Force to set up shop despite its “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy — structural homophobia in clear violation of the nondiscrimination pledge that Harvard requires all recruiting employers to sign.

Obviously, DADT is a major problem, and as such, has fueled major student opposition, like next month’s Right To Serve Campaign. (Details below.) But the problem is larger than this particular homophobic policy. We musn’t forget the 20th-century development and institutional entrenchment of institutional dependency between the military and the academy, a dependency that has forced Harvard’s hand in abetting discrimination. Abolishing DADT will be an important victory — one that can be won without impugning the military wholesale, if that’s your cup of tea. But unless we also fight to free our campuses from their military IV drips, we’ll continue to forfeit our intellectual and moral independence, remaining in the service of state violence at home and abroad.

And they say hard sciences aren’t politicized. ;)


For those interested, here’s some info on May’s anti-DADT bus tour.

Harvard Right to Serve Campaign

Who: Gay and straight students from Harvard College and the various graduate schools

What: A week long bus tour to highlight the injustice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

When: The day after finals ends for one week. May 24 – May 31.

Where: Four stops across America, targeting four U.S. Senators who will be key to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

How: At each stop one openly gay Harvard student will attempt to sign up for military service. When their desire to serve is rejected participants on the Harvard Right to Serve tour will sit-in at the recruitment station to highlight the injustice of denying a citizen the right to serve based solely on their sexual orientation.

Why: Student social activism is an effective yet under used tactic for creating social change in America. The week on the road will transform hearts and capture headlines. Yet even more importantly the journey will surely change you and offer memories that will last a life time.

All expenses are paid and there are 30 seats open on the bus. To sign up for the event or if you have questions about the tour please email Jacob Reitan at
The details: For a week 30 students from Harvard College and the various graduate schools will embark a week long journey that will highlight the injustice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Harvard Right to Serve tour will make four stops across the country. At each stop one openly gay Harvard student will attempt to sign up for military service. When their desire to serve is rejected participants on the Harvard Right to Serve tour will sit-in at the recruitment station to highlight the injustice of denying a citizen the right to serve based solely on their sexual orientation.

Each of the four stops made will target one of four U.S. Senators who are in a unique position to bring an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” These senators include: Ted Kennedy of MA and Susan Collins of ME, both are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and both will be asked to introduce a bill in the United States Senate to end the ban. The two other senators targeted will be John McCain and either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama (depending on who the nominee is). These two senators will be asked to pledge to end the ban if they were to become President.

I am writing you to encourage your participation in this exciting and important event. Gay or straight, undergraduate or graduate student, conservative or liberal — your participation is needed. Together we will send a clear message to America that discrimination has no place in our armed forces and no place in our country.

Will you join me in taking part in this exciting journey? Will you dedicate a week of your life to the cause of equality for the LGBT community?

If you are interested please send me an email. This is sure to be a memorable event that will capture headlines and change hearts. I hope you will join me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s