After a 40-year hiatus, Harvard University will again host a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program on campus, according to an agreement signed Friday (March 4) by President Drew Faust and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, J.D. ’76.

Harvard will formally welcome the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) program back to campus, following the decision by Congress in December to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law regarding military service. The University announced the decision Thursday (March 3).

The agreement with the Navy opens the door to future discussions between Harvard and other military branches regarding ROTC programs. Military science courses ended at Harvard in 1970. Naval and air science courses ended in 1971.

“I have looked forward to this day with anticipation and pride,” said Faust, a Civil War scholar and daughter of a decorated World War II officer.

Under the agreement, Harvard will resume full and formal recognition of Naval ROTC on the effective date of the repeal of the law that disqualified openly gay men and lesbians from military service, anticipated to come in the summer of 2011.

“Our renewed relationship affirms the commitment embodied in Congress’ historic December vote to achieve greater inclusiveness within the ranks of the military,” said Faust, “consonant with the ideals of our democracy and the best traditions of the Armed Forces.”

She called the agreement an affirmation of “opportunity and inclusion” at Harvard, where about 200 current students have served in the military, most of them in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The agreement, signed during the ceremony with Mabus, “recognizes military service as an honorable and admirable calling,” said Faust, “a powerful expression of an individual citizen’s commitment to contribute to the common good.”

The return of a Naval ROTC to Harvard “is good for Harvard, good for the Navy, and good for the country,” said Mabus. “With this exposure comes understanding, and through understanding comes true strength.”

Mabus, a former governor of Mississippi, served in the Navy from 1970 to 1972 as a lieutenant (junior grade) aboard the cruiser USS Little Rock, and enrolled in Harvard Law School immediately after his service.

The Navy and Harvard, he said, combined to give him the critical thinking skills and the sense of service that “have followed me through the last three and a half decades of my life.”

He called Faust “my wonderful partner in this pretty amazing endeavor.”

Mabus noted that Harvard and the military have had no formal ties for four decades, but that the University through the years continued its commitment to educate both active-duty military and veterans. “We have had connections,” he said. “It’s just nice to make those connections formal again.”

The agreement was celebrated in a ceremony at Loeb House. During World War II, Loeb House was the site of the V-12 Navy College Training Program, designed to supplement standard programs for new naval officers at 131 U.S. colleges and universities.

Under the new agreement, Harvard will assist the Naval ROTC operation with office space, administrative help, classrooms, and access to athletic fields for midshipmen training.

Harvard midshipmen will continue to officially train with the “Old Ironsides Battalion,” a consortium unit based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Currently, 10 Harvard students are part of the MIT-Harvard-Tufts Naval ROTC unit. Nine other Harvard students are with the MIT-based Army and Air Force ROTC units.

Michael Segal ’76 was in the audience at the ceremony, representing Advocates for Harvard ROTC, a support group founded in 1988 by David Clayman ’38, who died just six weeks ago.

“Not having the military at Harvard was bad for Harvard, and it was bad for the military,” said Segal, a neurologist who runs a medical software company in Brookline, Mass.

Even in the 1970s, “my view of the military was: These are the guys keeping us safe,” he said, acknowledging that most of his peers were focused on Vietnam protests. “My outlook was much more similar to the post-9/11 generation.” The terror attacks of 2001 are “why we’ve seen such a change here,” said Segal, “that and the liberalization of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ ”

During the ceremony, Mabus singled out past and present Harvard servicemen. He cited Harvard’s 17 Medal of Honor recipients, the highest number of any American college or university, outside the service academies.

Leonard Wood, Class of 1884, LL.D. 1899, was one recipient, the first doctor to become Army chief of staff. A fellow Rough Rider, future President Theodore Roosevelt, Class of 1880, was another. And his son Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was another, the only general officer to go ashore during the first wave of the D-Day invasion of Europe in 1944.

Mabus singled out his assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, Juan M. Garcia III, who in 1992 earned joint degrees from Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School; former Marine Capt. Seth Moulton ’01, M.P.A./M.B.A. ’11, and current Marine Capt. Barret Bradstreet ’01, who both helped to rebuild the Iraqi army; and former Navy lieutenant and two-time Olympic rower Henry Nuzum ’99, who was a surface warfare officer in the Gulf of Arabia.

“These are indicative of the types of leaders that Harvard produces,” he said, “the types of military leaders who have been here, who are here today, and who will be here, formally now, in the future.”

Among the press and Washington brass were several Harvard veterans, current students as well as alumni, who said they attended to celebrate the signing.

Maura Sullivan, M.P.A./M.B.A. ’09, a former captain in the Marines who served as co-president of the Armed Forces Alumni Association while at Harvard, always found that the University “embraced” her military service. “I very much felt my service was way beyond tolerated — it was welcomed, it was championed, it was encouraged, and it was respected,” she said.

Sullivan has been a longtime advocate of bringing ROTC back to Harvard, calling for it publicly in 2009 at a campus event with Army Gen. David Petraeus, key strategist of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Friday’s signing might have seemed to come out of the blue to observers, she said, but in fact it represents “a culmination of a lot of people’s efforts.”

“I’m incredibly proud that Harvard is the first to do this,” she said. “It’s important that we’re out in front, because this issue is so much bigger than Harvard.”

David Gergen, the Public Service Professor of Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Center for Public Leadership, echoed Sullivan’s statements.

“Drew Faust has taken the lead among the presidents of elite universities in restoring ROTC,” said Gergen, a former member of the Navy Reserves and an advocate of Harvard-military relations. “Harvard creates a ripple effect, and other universities are much more likely to follow that.”

In her short tenure as president, Faust has repeatedly emphasized public service, broadly defined, Gergen said. Bringing ROTC back to campus is “an important milestone” in encouraging students to serve their country not just in government, but on the battlefield, in the classroom, and elsewhere.

A culture of honoring military service has been growing across Harvard’s Schools, Gergen said. The Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School (HBS) have been hosting biannual dinners honoring service members and their families since 2007. Student veterans groups have been a “force for good” in recent years, he added, bringing back the Yellow Ribbon Program to support the GI Bill on campus and sending a delegation to Haiti to help in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

Veterans have become an increasingly unified voice on campus as well. Among the guests at the signing were three members of Crimson Serves, a student group started in 2010 to bring together veterans organizations from across Harvard’s Schools and to create a dialogue with the University. While Harvard’s graduate Schools do a solid job of recruiting and supporting veterans, said Jonas Akins ’01, a current student at HBS who is also a naval officer, the reinstatement of ROTC will go a long way toward “just helping to answer students’ questions, from ‘How do I sign up for the Marines?’ to ‘What’s combat actually like?’ ”

Moulton, who is also a tutor in Quincy House, agreed that having an official ROTC presence will be a great resource for students considering military careers, a path not taken by many undergraduates.

“You’d be surprised the number of undergraduates who come to me because they’re interested in joining the military,” said Moulton, who completed four tours in Iraq. “But it’s hard to take a job your friends aren’t doing. It’s not finance.”

“Coming here to Harvard, it’s really striking just how arms’-length the relationship between the military and the School has been, but even in the past two years it’s seen tremendous strides,” said Erik Malmstrom, an M.P.P./M.B.A. candidate and a former Army platoon leader who served in Afghanistan.

Harvard has a long history with the ROTC, and with the military.

In 1769, Harvard students formed their own military company, the Marti-Mercurian Band. It adopted the “buff and blue” colors later adopted by the Continental Army.

In April 1861, a young graduate of Harvard Law School, James Prentiss Richardson, organized the first U.S. company of volunteers to march in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers two days before.

In 1916, the University’s “Harvard Regiment,” a military training corps of 1,000 students, became the first unit of the Army’s new Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, established by the National Defense Act of 1916.

During World War I, 11,319 Harvard men served in the military; about two-thirds of them received commissions. During World War II, almost 27,000 Harvard students, alumni, faculty members, and staffers served in the Armed Forces.

At the end of the ceremony, Faust smiled during a storm of applause. She leaned forward to the audience members, most of them in uniform, and mouthed the words, “Thank you all.”

The ceremony was followed by a reception at the Harvard Faculty Club, where Faust and Mabus addressed a crowd of service members past, present, and perhaps most important, future. Among the reception’s guests were several Harvard NROTC undergraduates, including Colin Dickinson ’13 and James Reach ’11. While neither looks forward to their continued early-morning slog to MIT’s campus for training, “we’re definitely excited to have a unit here on campus,” Dickinson said.

Although their classmates have generally been supportive and even curious about their participation in NROTC, the two officers-in-training said, their peers often have misconceptions about what such service entails. By bringing ROTC programs back to campus, Reach said, Harvard will be doing its part to broaden all students’ awareness of the military.

“Part of going to Harvard is understanding the world better, and the military is a part of that world,” Reach added.

The agreement was signed at historic Loeb House. During World War II, the Harvard president’s house at 17 Quincy St., now known as Loeb House, was turned over by President James Bryant Conant to the Navy for its V-12 training program, which supplemented the force of commissioned officers in the service. Justin Ide/Harvard Staff Photographer

Harvard and ROTC