By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- A legend in national security circles will be among the dignitaries on hand next week when the handful of graduating Harvard seniors who are ROTC cadets get commissioned as military officers.
Administering the oath will be Michael G. Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. Vickers is better known as the CIA whiz kid depicted in the 2007 blockbuster Charlie Wilson's War who formulated the strategy of arming the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The mild-mannered Vickers, who looks more like a bespectaled school teacher than the brash ex-soldier that many credit with chasing the Soviet military out of Afghanistan, will also deliver a short speech, according to Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Robert Mehal.
Also in attendance at the Harvard Yard ceremony on May 26 will be former Senator Paul Kirk, who is commemorating his 50th reunion, and Harvard President Drew Faust, the latest sign that the university leadership may be prepared to more fully embrace the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
Harvard students who are ROTC cadets still have to take military science classes and drill at nearby MIT because Harvard has not formally recognized the program since the anti-war protests of the Vietnam War -- including not accepting credit for ROTC classes.
But Harvard and other elite universities who still do not fully accept the military scholarship program have shown signs of softening their position as of late.
A key reason, officials say, is that their remaining defense appears to be crumbling: the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. The policy has long been cited as violating the universities' own anti-discrimination policies but is now opposed by top Pentagon leaders and may soon be overturned by Congress.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.