Tell Me Again Why Columbia Should Restore ROTC

Columbia Alliance for ROTC

May 2, 2005

An important question has been put before the University Senate. The question: Should Columbia support the return of ROTC? The answer is yes because it is in the best interests of the entire Columbia community.

One of the key concerns of faculty has been loss of control over course content, faculty titles, and the like. This has been addressed many times by proponents of ROTC with assurances that restoring ROTC can be done in a way so that faculty will have appropriate say over the program. There is another aspect that faculty should consider.

The Columbia faculty will have a chance to interact not only with the cadet students as future citizens but also they will be interacting with some of them as future military leaders. You never know how exactly this will play out down the line. How many students will become Generals or Admirals is difficult to forecast.

The college has turned out some of the best minds in the world and there is no reason to suggest that they could not rise to the highest military ranks. If so they will be required to manage many mega- crises not yet imagined. It would seem to us that the potential for empowering faculty to influence the thought process of these future “mega-crisis managers” would be intrinsically rewarding to the faculty.

In today’s world there is a need to be aware of the key role of the military in world affairs and not be sheltered from exposure to it. Columbia students will be among tomorrow’s future leaders in many fields of endeavor. If we permit the military to remain invisible in these student’s formative years do we not create citizens who are less informed about a major American Institution? An institution which has enormous power and consumes a significant portion of our GDP. The presence of ROTC serves as a visible reminder of our responsibilities as educators and citizens of the need to stay informed of our military’s activities.

Discrimination against sexual orientation (DADT) seems to be a reason given justifying the reluctance to return ROTC to Columbia. ROTC students at Columbia did not make the law. Elected government officials did. To change things we as citizens must influence these individuals to change the law. In the absence of an organized effort to lobby the political powers in government on DADT one must come to the conclusion that keeping ROTC off campus is the primary objective and concern for gays is a convenient rallying cry.

Even if the ban on service by open gays were lifted tomorrow (some observers see that happening sooner than later) the current off campus participation in ROTC would place gays who might be seeking a service in the military as an officer into a disadvantaged category. They would become part of a group that for whatever reasons seem to “displease” Columbia and therefore must be kept out of sight. (Participation at Fordham) Restoring ROTC to campus would solve that problem in a heart beat.

According to some observers the Army and the Marines combined need to increase their active duty troops by at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years. Recruiting goals are not being met. It is likely that the United States will be involved in a “generational commitment” in the Middle East. Where will the military resources come from?

Enter the sleeping giant,” the draft” or its twin Universal National Service. Add to that the legitimate concerns by many legislators that the country must insure shared sacrifice among all Americans. There will be no “poverty draft”. The memories of the privileged escaping service in the Viet Nam days linger. Loopholes will be closed. Being gay, in school, or going to Canada will not be likely options to avoid service. There is an alternative scenario.

The way to increase the proportion of highly educated and relatively well-to-do Americans in our armed forces is to expand the ROTC. Legislators who understand the concerns of the less privileged would be more likely to support ROTC expansion while not solving all manpower problems in preference to a draft. However, at some point there may be no choice. In short, oppose ROTC and increase the probability of slogging through a desert rifle in hand as a draftee. Those who are concerned with gay issues at Columbia would be wise to consider the shifting cultural sands and where their best interest lie.

Academic freedom is essential in a university that exists to nourish the intellect. Academic freedom at Columbia currently seems to be “a burning platform issue”. (Columbia Unbecoming) Long before this video some at Columbia seemed to be concerned that with the restoration of ROTC the possibility of government limiting their right to propose new or different ideas in the areas of health, housing, civil rights and civil liberties to name a few. But do the proponents of contemporary liberalism realize there is an excellent opportunity to advance their beliefs?

Liberal causes are often unfairly accused of being anti-American, materialistic and self serving. It would do the liberal cause well to place a stronger emphasis on public service. Service to the country would among other things recognize the role of the ROTC. Supporting the return of the ROTC would do more to challenge negative stereotypes of liberals and their causes than a dozen letters to Spectator decrying the military as war mongers, racists, and homophobes.

There is one other aspect that should be considered. That is the impact of the ROTC on the parents of students. In many cases students who are academically prepared but not financially equipped to attend Columbia will graduate with a commission as well as a degree. Without the ROTC scholarship this might not have been possible. In addition to the immense pride that a parent feels that their son or daughter has completed the curriculum there is an additional sense of pride and respect fostered to the institution that made this dual accomplishment possible.

The restoration of ROTC can help the needs of all parties provided they are able to see beyond the differences and embrace the opportunity for transforming conflict into opportunity.