Excerpted from the October 6, 1989 committee report entitled,


By Prof. J. Kim Vandiver

December 4, 1995

Military instruction has existed at the Institute from the time of the first classes in 1865, and is specified in the Institute's charter. The relationship with the MIT faculty has experienced many fluctuations over the years, varying from times of intense friction and disagreement to times of substantial pride in the military contributions of the Institute and its alumni. It has been asserted that MIT's ROTC program (established in 1917) was the first in the nation, and that MIT was second only to West Point in the number of alumni serving as officers in the Army in WWI.

This historical summary is based on source materials, which are to be found in the Appendices of the original report of 1989. The history section of the 1989 report was written by Prof. J. Kim Vandiver. The earliest of the source materials date to 1893 and include a brief history of the formation of MIT and the programs of military instruction, as written by Lt. H.L. Hawthorne, the Commander of the Department of Military Science and Tactics[A*]. The notation [A*] will be used to indicate that the document may be found in the appendix of the original 1989 report. Another document describes the Land Grant College status of MIT[A*]. Other documents include a 1968 history prepared by Prof. J.M. Austin and the proceedings of faculty meetings held on May 14, 1969, May 21, 1969, and May 20, 1970[A*}.

The most complete collection of early documents relating to military instruction are in the files of the Army ROTC commander at MIT. The walls of the Army ROTC offices at MIT display many photographs of early training units at the Institute. The archives have these and many more.

One photograph shows MIT Artillery Cadets going through a drill in 1875 in the street in front of the Roger's Building in Boston, then the home of the Institute.

The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) was established by the National Defense Act of 1916. Prior to that military training existed on many campuses, due primarily to the Morrill Act or Land Grant Act of July 2, 1862. Under that act funds were to be provided for:

"The endorsement, support and maintenance of at least one college (in each state) where the leading object shall be, without excluding scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanical arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the states may respectively prescribe." [A7] (emphasis added)

A motivation for the Morrill Act is quoted below and described in a 1970 historical review of the ROTC programs at MIT[A*]. This motive is compelling to some even today as we consider the future of the MIT/ROTC relationship.

"Justin Morrill, the Vermont congressman who gave his name to the bill, was quite clearly motivated in his advocacy of the measure by a desire 'to reduce the Army to its regular dimension' and hence protect a free society from a large, centrally controlled standing army while providing a 'means by which a democratic people could gain a competent officer corps for a military reserve without endangering basic liberties'.* These goals have been achieved with marked success throughout our history since the Morrill Act with a military officer corps that is for the most part a product of ROTC type training."

* From Lyons, G.M. and Masland, J.W., Education and Military Leadership, Princeton Press, Princeton, N.J., 1959, p. 30.

MIT is a Land Grant College. As described in the charter act of MIT in the furtherance of the Land Grant Act is Chapter 186, of the Acts of 1863, Massachusetts Legislature, approved April 27, 1863. The relevant text reads: "said Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in addition to other objects set forth, shall provide for instruction in military tactics." Accordingly the first annual catalogue (1865-1866) reads: "MILITARY TACTICS - The regular students of the School will be taught the use of small arms, and the simple parts of tactics, and for this purpose, will be organized into one or more companies, to meet on stated days for military instruction and exercise." The catalogue indicates one and one half hours per week for first and second year students.

In 1893 an account of the founding of MIT and the development of the curriculum, including military science, from 1865 to 1893, was written by Lt. H.L. Hawthorne, the Head of the Department of Military Science and Tactics. He states that there was a complete absence of records of the military science program prior to 1892. He completed his history in June of 1893.

An Army ROTC unit was established at MIT in 1917, shortly after the passage of the National Defense Act of 1916. Copies of the letters between the President of MIT and the War Department establishing the unit are on file[A*]. A brief, but unsigned history, recorded on Department of Military Science stationary, is available from the 1950 time period[A*]. It states that the Army ROTC unit at MIT was the first unit to be established in the country. It also states that 1538 MIT alumni served in WWI, 1335 as commissioned officers, second only to West Point. Many more alumni served in WWII. The same history reports: "The Technology Alumni Service Flag carries 9634 stars, of which 227 are gold. (We interpret this to mean that as of about 1950, 9634 alumni had served in the armed forces and that 227 had died in service.) About 30% of the Alumni were in uniform, based on January 1942 figures. Counting all kinds, the roster of MIT Alumni shows 94 Generals of the US Army, 1 of the Marine Corps, 1 of the Canadian Army and 2 of the Chinese Army; 50 Admirals and Commodores of the US Navy, 1 of the US Coast Guard and 1 of the Chinese Navy; 505 other officers of the Armed Forces who attained the rank of Colonel in the Army or the corresponding rank of Captain in the Navy."

An Air Service ROTC unit was maintained at the Institute between 1920 and 1935 by the US Army and then dropped by funding restrictions imposed by the US Congress. In 1946 an Air ROTC unit was established, which in 1949 became an Air Force ROTC unit, following the establishment of the US Air Force in 1947.

The Navy ROTC program also dates from after World War II. A copy of the original letter of application from President Killian, dated January 18, 1951 is in the appendices to the 1989 report. The Navy ROTC unit was not established until October of 1956, due to a prolonged period of negotiation, which culminated in a unique curriculum, and had widespread influence on nationwide ROTC programs.

The following discussion is summarized from a 1968 history written by Prof. J.M. Austin[A*] Prior to 1950, Army or Air Force ROTC was compulsory for freshmen and sophomores at MIT. About 1950 a faculty committee, chaired by Prof. Austin, recommended the abandonment of compulsory ROTC, and expressed a desire that of the approximately eight required ROTC subjects, approximately half of them should be selected from the existing MIT curricula and receive MIT credit toward graduation. Compulsory ROTC was eventually dropped by a vote of the faculty. This was recorded in a letter, dated March 17, 1958, from Acting President Julius Stratton, officially notifying the Army that compulsory ROTC was being dropped by a vote of the MIT faculty, but also reaffirming MIT's interest in continuing a voluntary program. Voluntary ROTC was accompanied by changes in the curricula, as described in more detail below, also taken from Professor Austin's history.

In 1957, as a result of discussions between Dr. Killian and the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, MIT established a Naval ROTC program which incorporated the wishes of the faculty and administration. Quoting from Austin, 1968, "It is important to recall that MIT faculty dictated the nature of the Navy program. There was another ad hoc committee, but I was again chairman. The Navy curriculum consisted of 2 subjects in the freshman year (principally history) and 2 in the senior year, which were devel- oped in conjunction with our faculty in the School of Management." Austin goes on to say that "This curriculum was a radical departure from traditional ROTC curricula and aroused widespread interest in many American colleges and universities."

In 1958 President Stratton appointed another committee, again chaired by Prof. Austin, to develop new curricula for the Army and Air Force programs. Within a year the Air Force adopted a new curriculum, similar to the Navy program, although it included some non-credit subjects. It was not until 1968 that the Army agreed to a new plan similar to the others, in which four ROTC subjects received academic credit. Two were taught by MIT faculty and two were taught by ROTC instructors who were qualified by the ARMY and when necessary sent for a year of graduate study, prior to assuming teaching obligations. Thus an ad hoc committee appointed by President Stratton in 1958 concluded its business in 1968, and was finally relieved of responsibilities.

In his closing remarks, Prof. Austin makes the following points.

"The existing ROTC programs were dictated by MIT faculty. We have assumed a position of leadership, among American institutions, in four important areas:

(1) Developing the concept of the substitution of regular professional subjects to meet a substantial part of the ROTC statutory requirements;

(2) The elimination, as far as possible, of the traditional vocational training of ROTC programs;

(3) The development of ROTC subjects which are compatible with the desires and interests of undergraduates so that they are worthy of academic credit; and,

(4) The integration of ROTC curricula into the professional courses at MIT so as to eliminate undesirable overloads.

The needs of the military have been recognized insofar as their 4 credit subjects are in areas of interest to the services, e.g. history, political science, and management. Recent changes have been in the direction of regular MIT faculty teaching one or more of these four subjects."

The growing national unrest over the Vietnam War brought the ROTC programs into the debate of the faculty once again in the Spring of 1969. During the same general time period, ROTC programs were abolished at Tufts, Boston University, and Harvard. At a faculty meeting, held on May 14, 1969,in Kresge Auditorium, with an attendance of four hundred fifty seven faculty members, after lengthy debate, a motion to abolish ROTC was defeated by a large margin.[A*] Action on several other related items was postponed to a faculty meeting, held on May 21, 1969. At that meeting, attended by two hundred seventy eight faculty members, a Committee on Educational Policy motion was adopted, which proposed the formation of a new study committee to consider alterations in the ROTC programs.[A*]

The study committee, chaired by Prof. McGarry, included Prof. J.M. Austin as a member. The committee submitted a report dated April 1, 1970, which was presented for a vote to the faculty on May 20, 1970. The report made the following recommendations as a motion to the faculty:

1. We recommend the establishment of an "Office of ROTC Programs", reporting to the Provost.

2. We recommend that those subjects in the ROTC curricula for which a student receives credit toward his MIT degree be limited to regular MIT subjects offered by the various academic departments.

3. We recommend that if a student is disenrolled from an ROTC program before graduation and thereby becomes subject to active military service he be assured the opportunity to continue his MIT education until the completion of the normal period required to earn his undergraduate degree.

4. We recommend that the President, in consultation with the Chairman of the Faculty, appoint a Faculty- Administration Committee to monitor the policy and operation of the Office of ROTC Programs and to deal with all matters pertaining to ROTC. When appropriate, this committee will make recommendations to the faculty.

5. We recommend that the commanding officer of each ROTC unit receive an appointment as "Director of (Army, Navy, or Air Force) ROTC Program" with the rank of Visiting Professor and that he be appointed to the committee recommended in 4 above. We also recommend that all other members of the ROTC teaching staff be appointed as "Technical Instructor of (Military,Air or Naval) Science" if their duties so warrant.

An amendment to deny faculty status to the unit commanders of the three programs was defeated. The motion to adopt the recommendations was passed by a vote of 247 to 93.[A*]

These recommendations, adopted by the faculty in 1970, are the basic operating guidelines which have been in effect to the present day. The implementation of these guidelines over the intervening 25 years is summarized below.

Recommendation 1., above, proposed that an office of ROTC programs be established under the Provost. In effect this function for many years was filled by a single person: Louis Menand III, a Special Assistant to the Provost, and later John Turner, the Associate Dean of the Graduate School. This responsibility was assigned in the late 1980's to the Office of Undergraduate Education and Dean Margaret MacVicar.

Recommendation 2. grants credit to subjects in the ROTC curriculum if they are regular subjects offered by various academic departments. In the discussion portion of the 1970 ROTC Study Committee's report it is clear that the intention was to allow qualified ROTC staff faculty to teach subjects for credit, in the same way as do other instructors, lecturers, and visiting professors. These guidelines are still in effect today, and were reaffirmed in a letter from the chair of COC to the ROTC unit commanders. A department subject number must be attached to each offering for credit. The appropriate department head must attest to the Committee on Curricula that the subject content and the instructor are appropriate for granting credit towards a degree by normal MIT academic standards. Several undergraduate seminars satisfying these criteria have been offered over the recent years.

Anti-war sentiment grew at MIT in the late 1960's. As early as May 1965 faculty and students were conducting teach-ins on the Vietnam War. Surprisingly, in the light of events to come, a petition in 1967 calling for the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam did not carry a sufficient number of signatures to be put on the general ballot for a student referendum. By May of 1969 widespread anti-war sentiment was shown by students and faculty by a campus-wide cancellation of classes at which time war issues were discussed. The faculty vote considering the continued presence of ROTC at MIT was a major topic during these debates.

Resistance to the war and MIT's involvement in it became less benign the following fall. In October the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) occupied the offices of the Center for International Studies. In November 1969 demonstrations at the Instrumentation Laboratories became violent. Members of the Cambridge Police Tactical Unit, in riot gear, engaged student demonstrators attempting to occupy the Laboratories. In January 1970, students occupied the offices of MIT's President Johnson demanding that MIT stop all related weapons research.

In May 1972 MIT experienced a major confrontation between student war protestors and the Cambridge Police. For the first time the ROTC programs became the actual focal point of the demonstrations a few days later. A photograph in the 1989 report shows student demonstrators on the 77 Massachusetts Avenue steps. After a demonstration at the President's Office, about seventy students occupied the ROTC offices in Building 20. According to accounts in The Tech and Tech Talk, during the initial occupation, a campus patrolman discharged his weapon over the heads of the demonstrators. A small group of about 100 students lent their support from outside the ROTC offices. After overnight discussions with administrators, the demonstrators voted to end the demonstration the next day. Disciplinary hearings which concluded in November the following academic year resulted in two students being placed on disciplinary probation.

A detailed chronological accounting of the significant events at MIT and other universities in the area from 1964 to 1983 is presented in the Appendices to the 1989 report. This document is excerpted from the 1983 Institutional Research Report "MIT ROTC Cross-Registration" published by the Planning Office. A very brief accounting follows:

1. September/October/November 1968. Harvard Undergraduate Council votes to start action in hopes of limiting ROTC status on campus. Many actions follow leading to an SDS petition placed before the Harvard faculty Senate, seeking the ouster of ROTC from campus.

2. November 1969. Student protests disrupt MIT. Police are called in to handle the disruption.

3. April 14, 1969. The Tufts AFROTC Unit, citing low enrollment, announces plans to terminate the program.

4. The Tufts faculty votes to terminate the NROTC program. There was no Army ROTC program at Tufts.

5. May 29, 1969. The Harvard Corporation negotiating Committee recommends termination of ROTC.

6. December 1, 1969. The draft lottery is held.

7. January 1970. MIT students occupy the President's Office.

8. May 5, 1970. Four students are killed during protests at Kent State.

9. May 1972. MIT ROTC offices occupied by students.

10. April 1973. The last U.S. troops leave Vietnam.

11. July 1973. MIT divests Draper Laboratory.

12. Wellesley students are allowed to take ROTC at MIT beginning in January of 1974.

13. In September of 1975 Northeastern University students are allowed to enroll in Air Force ROTC at MIT.

14. In May of 1976, Harvard students are allowed to enroll in Army or Air Force ROTC units at MIT.

15. As of February 1978 Tufts students are allowed to enroll in AFROTC.

16. In 1981 a temporary agreement allows Boston University students to enroll in MIT AFROTC.

17. In June of 1981 Air force and Army ROTC units reopen at BU, followed by the opening of a Naval unit in 1983.

18. In 1982 the agreement with Northeastern is terminated and the Northeastern ROTC cadets are transferred to the units at BU.

19. In 1981 Harvard students are allowed into the MIT Naval ROTC, followed by Tufts students in 1982 and Wellesley students in 1983.

Until recently Harvard, Wellesley, and Tufts paid a pro rata share of the direct costs borne by MIT for the operation of the ROTC programs. In 1994 Harvard faculty chose to stop direct payments to MIT. A separate means has been created so that donations from alumni are put into a special fund to cover these costs.

The partnership with the MIT faculty seems to have been largely disrupted by the events surrounding the Vietnam War. The mood of the nation after Vietnam resulted in many people desiring to put more distance between themselves and things military, and the end of the draft removed a significant incentive for students to enroll in ROTC programs. In the mid-1970's voluntary ROTC programs found it difficult to recruit students in sufficient numbers. A major change, necessitated in part by low enrollments, was a substantial expansion of scholarship programs. Another significant change at MIT was a gradual resurgence in the number of ROTC subjects taught by ROTC staff, instead of MIT faculty.

In summary, MIT has had an exceptional role in the evolution of nationwide ROTC programs and policies. In the years between 1950 and 1970, the MIT faculty and administration had a significant voice in the molding of ROTC curricula and a role in the teaching of subjects in history, political science and management which were gradually substituted for less acceptable vocational ROTC subjects. Since 1970 the number of non-credit bearing ROTC subjects has increased.

The following section is excerpted from a section of the 1989 report which addressed identified problems associated with the presence of ROTC on the MIT campus. It is reproduced here as a 1989 benchmark in the history of this issue on campus.

Sexual Orientation Standards as of October 1989

In the late 1970's MIT adopted its current policy on sexual orientation, explicitly prohibiting discrimination. MIT's policy is in direct conflict with certain restrictions on sexual orientation imposed by the ROTC units on students in their programs with or without scholarship assistance.

The Army's section of the Handbook for Faculty Advisors states that the "Discovery of a fact or condition that will bar a student from appointment as a commissioned officer, to include homosexuality" is a reason "for Possible Termination from ROTC." In its section, the Air Force states that "To be eligible for the Air Force ROTC Program the applicant must....Not be a homosexual." The following excerpt from an Army regulations document illustrates the position of the military in this matter:

"Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct or who, by their statements, demonstrate a tendency to engage in homosexual conduct, seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission. The presence of such soldiers adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among soldiers; to insure the integrity of the system of rank and command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of soldiers who frequently must live and work under close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain soldiers of the armed forces; to maintain the public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security."

Since MIT established its policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation, it has consulted with the military over this issue. MIT has apparently accepted, with some discomfort, that an exception to its nondiscrimination policy would be made in the case of the ROTC units. As long as this exception exists the Institute should require clear and thorough statements of the policies of the three ROTC programs with regard to sexual orientation and activity. For example, the committee noted in the Handbook for Faculty Advisors a number of differences in language among the three ROTC units that imply policy differences with respect to sexual orientation. It is not clear to the committee whether there is a policy distinction made between sexual orientation and activity: is a gay student eligible to be in ROTC if he/she is a passive homosexual? We recommend that all the ROTC units address this issue and make clear the distinction in its printed material.

With respect to the loss of a ROTC scholarship due to homosexual orientation, the committee learned that if it is determined that a student has willfully lied about his or her orientation, he or she will lose the scholarship and could be required to pay back all disbursed monies to the military. If the student did not lie but discovered his or her homosexuality while on scholarship, the student loses future scholarship aid, but does not have to reimburse the military for funds already received. The conditions of all ROTC scholarships allow students to leave without obligation up to the end of the freshman year.

For the present the Institute is allowing an exception to its policy requiring non-discrimination based on sexual preference. Until this is resolved the Institute should in its own statements of policy make this exception clear. Furthermore, the Institute should take every reasonable step to convince the military services to accept non-discrimination policies based on sexual preference. Some members of the committee feel that if MIT is unsuccessful in convincing the Department of Defense to change this policy within five to seven years, MIT should consider terminating ROTC on the MIT campus. Others are strongly convinced that the need for an ROTC program is so compelling that it should remain even if the conflict is not resolved.

Developments Since the 1989 Report

In November of 1989 an MIT student in Naval ROTC was disbarred on the basis that he was a homosexual. This event brought this issue from the status of being lost in a committee report to being at the forefront of the faculty's agenda. In the Spring of 1990 faculty action on the issue came to a vote in the form of the motion that called for the formation of a Task Force in 1995 to recommend to the faculty a course of action on this issue.

MIT Task Force Homepage

Send comments to rotc-comment@mit.edu. Although we cannot reply to all who write to us, we do promise to read every letter.

Please send web-page related comments to eve@mit.edu

MIT Home Page