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Harvard, Yale open up to ROTC plans after 'don't ask, don't tell' vote

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Congress votes to repeal the military's policy banning openly gay and lesbian members
  • Harvard president: "It affirms American ideals of equal opportunity"
  • Yale is "eager" to open talks about expanding opportunities for students interested in military service

(CNN) -- The presidents of Harvard and Yale universities have expressed interest in ROTC programs after Congress voted to repeal the military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy that has banned openly gay and lesbian service members.

The universities' statements come five months after Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, then a Supreme Court nominee, came under criticism by Republican senators who complained that she actively tried to block military recruiters from Harvard Law School when she was dean because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Kagan and the White House have strongly defended her actions, saying that while she opposed the military's policy, Kagan never kept recruiters off the university.

Four months after taking the job as Harvard's dean, in October 2003, Kagan offered students her thoughts in a campus-wide e-mail, saying that to give recruiters equal access to the campus "causes me deep distress. I abhor the military's discriminatory recruitment policy." She called it "a profound wrong - a moral injustice of the first order."

In a written statement, Harvard President Drew Faust called the act to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" a "historic step."

"It affirms American ideals of equal opportunity and underscores the importance of the right to military service as a fundamental dimension of citizenship," Faust said. "I look forward to pursuing discussions with military officials and others to achieve Harvard's full and formal recognition of ROTC. I am very pleased that more students will now have the opportunity to serve their country."

Yale University President Richard C. Levin said in a written statement that Yale is "eager to open discussions about expanding opportunities for students interested in military service" and will discuss the matter with the faculty of the college in the spring semester.

"Meanwhile, I have asked General Counsel Dorothy Robinson, Secretary Linda Lorimer and Yale College Dean Mary Miller to consult with officials in Washington early in the new year to determine the militaryıs interest in establishing an ROTC unit at Yale," Levin said. "We are very hopeful that these discussions will enable us to begin a new chapter in the long history of Yale's support of the U.S. Armed Services."

President Barack Obama will sign the repeal on Wednesday morning, the White House has said, setting the stage to allow gay people to serve openly in the military. But the changes aren't expected to take effect for at least a few months.

The Pentagon has an 87-page implementation plan for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Over the next several weeks, military officials need to examine and rewrite a series of policies, regulations and directives related to the current law.

Once that potentially lengthy process is complete, Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen will each have to certify that the repeal can move ahead without negatively affecting unit cohesion and military readiness.

After the certification, another 60 days will need to pass before the repeal is officially enacted.

Even after the repeal, gay and lesbian service members will not have every right and privilege accorded to heterosexual members of the military, largely because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

A Pentagon study released this month concluded that allowing openly gay or lesbian troops to serve in the military would have little lasting impact on the U.S. armed forces. Opposition to the change was much higher in Army and Marine combat units than in the military as a whole.

CNN's Bill Mears, Barbara Starr, Larry Shaughnessy and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.