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Harvard spokesman John Longbrake said recruiters with the active military have “the same access on campus as other recruiters,” and pointed out that Harvard students can participate in ROTC exercises down the road at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He declined to comment on the recent reconciliation conference and cited a June ROTC commissioning address by Harvard University President Drew Faust, who congratulated the 2008 graduating ROTC class.

“I wish that there were more of you,” Ms. Faust said then. “I believe that every Harvard student should have the opportunity to serve in the military, as you do, and as those honored in the past have done.”

Some at the conference are hopeful that a bill in the U.S. House, sponsored by Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, will end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” thus eliminating a contentious issue between the two sides. The bill has 137 co-sponsors, including one Republican, and is pending before a House Armed Services subcommittee.

Kathy Roth-Douquet, author of “AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from the Military and How it Hurts Our Country,” noted that the “Don’t Ask” policy was implemented by civilian leaders - members of Congress and former President Bill Clinton - rather than military leaders, who are merely following orders and don’t deserve the scorn of elites eschewing what they see as a “homophobic” policy.

However, retired Rear Adm. Alan Steinman, a former senior medical officer for the Coast Guard who is openly gay, says Congress is likely to take its cues from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who in the past have argued that openly gay service members could harm overall troop morale.

“I don’t think you’ll get conservative Democrats voting for the repeal if the Joint Chiefs don’t say, ‘It’s OK, we’ll make it work,’ ” said Mr. Steinman, who advised President Obama’s transition team in January on the impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“It is the only federal law authorizing an employer to fire someone for being gay, lesbian or bisexual,” he said. “It forces gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the military to lie about who they are … members live in constant fear that they will be discovered.”

Nearly 13,000 people have been discharged from the military since “Don’t Ask” went into effect, Mr. Steinman said, and an additional estimated 40,000 people have left voluntarily out of fear they would be discovered. Those rejected include valuable specialists with experience as linguists, human intelligence collectors, engineers and explosives experts.

Whatever happens with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Ivy Leaguers and the military need to develop a mutual respect for each other in order to move forward, said Donna Hicks, a specialist in conflict resolution at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

“This is about people. This isn’t about politics,” she said.