Statement for the Final Report of the Columbia University Senate Task Force on ROTC

Sean Wilkes

Member of the Task Force and Chairman of Advocates for Columbia ROTC

May 4, 2005

Over Low Library, inscribed in stone, is the founding mandate that Columbia advance the public good.

Within that light, we ask the university not to make a subtraction that divests any member of the Columbia community, but to add to the university a program that enhances opportunities for students, educates leaders of unique responsibility, and is profoundly imbued with service to the public good and belief in the tenets of our democratic society. We approach Columbia as the same university that has nurtured a greater exception with Barnard, an all-women s college, for the sake of advancing the public good.

Columbia’s position on ROTC is indeed counterintuitive, and therefore somewhat perplexing. It refuses to allow ROTC, and therefore a direct influence on new military officers, because in some form the laws and policies by which the military must abide are not acceptable to the University, but it cannot suppose to be able to affect any change without exerting some influence on the culture and people that make up that institution. As one of the world’s premier universities, Columbia should be engaging the issues directly through its own involvement, not ignoring them by denying ROTC a place.

Columbia, as a prime source of national and international leaders, must include in its charge the education of those who are directly involved in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy.

Why is it so critical now? The U.S. military, one of the primary means by which the US enacts its foreign policy, is in a great state of flux. 9-11 was the vertical shock that got the ball rolling. It is transforming in a way that it has not since WWII. Warfare has changed, indeed the US s role in the world has changed, and the military is changing in response.

Columbia has a chance now to be directly involved with this process. The greatest imaginable stakes now fall upon the shoulders of American military leaders, many of whom are educated through ROTC. Not so different a circumstance than Columbia faced 60 years ago, when Columbia sent thousands of military graduates into a dynamically changing world, blessed with her values and the mandate to advance the public good. We live again in historic times and, today like yesterday, Columbia is offered this singular historic opportunity. It must take it.

Much of the opposition to granting ROTC a place on campus has centered around the Don't Ask Don't Tell Don't Pursue law (DADT). Over the course of the campaign for ROTC on campus, many accusations have been thrown at the military, and members of the military, that it is an organization of bigots and homophobes, and that such people have no place on campus. These astounding statements were not only examples irresponsible stereotyping, but were hurtful to many veterans and military family members in the Columbia University community. What must be made clear is that the DADT law is not grounded in bigotry or homophobia, but in practical concerns of privacy. It is the opinion of many on this campus, including advocates of ROTC, that as an answer to these concerns, DADT was not an appropriate course of action because its inherent discrimination violates rights. However, in accepting ROTC Columbia does not have to send a message to the world that it is accepting discrimination. It certainly has the option of returning ROTC "under protest." That is, voicing under legal contract its disagreement with and opposition to current law. It can also, as other schools have done, establish contingency plans and financial protection for students who may be affected by current law, something it cannot currently do for students who must attend the program at other institutions.

It is not the military's purpose or mission to discriminate. Neither is that the purpose of ROTC. Their purpose is to help ensure the viability of our Armed Forces by providing them with well educated leaders and citizen-soldiers. Accepting ROTC would not send a message that "we accept discrimination," but that "we strive develop leaders in all areas of society, including the military."

Both the military as a whole, and ROTC as a part of that whole, are required to follow laws established by congress and executive orders signed by the President. This is not a matter of an employer discriminating on its own accord, but of a public service being required to follow laws put in place by elected leaders. It is certainly appropriate for Columbia to challenge those laws with which it disagrees, but to do so by blatantly rejecting those who are required to follow them is simply irresponsible.

Granting this program a place on campus will benefit students who wish to gain the leadership training that ROTC provides and serve as officers - leaders - in this nation's military. Just as Columbia provides pre-professional opportunities for students interested in medicine and law, it behooves the university to provide similar opportunities for those interested in the military profession as well. And the most direct viable way to do this is through ROTC - the nation's premier leadership training program.