Questions and Answers About NROTC

by Columbia Students for NROTC

This page seeks to centralize information relevant to the NROTC survey to be distributed to the undergraduate community on November 24th, as well as information about the history of the debate.

Who are we?

Columbia Students for NROTC is a coalition made up of individuals, and has no affiliation with any group on campus.  It includes Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Obama-voters, McCain-voters, veterans, students currently enrolled in Army ROTC at Fordham, students not affiliated with the military at all, gay students, and straight students.  If students are interested in joining this coalition, they should email

What is NROTC?

The Reserve Officers Training Corps produces over 60% of all Armed Forces Officers.  It is designed as a college elective that can be tried for up to two years with no obligation.  The program provides a wide range of experiences, combining military science classes with hands-on leadership experience.  Columbia University housed a Naval Training Program on campus since 1916, and NROTC since the 1940s, and graduated thousands of midshipmen to the U.S. Navy. Students in the program took part in Naval Science classes, studied on ships and submarines in New York's harbor, and provided community service in Manhattan and the Morningside Heights area.  The Navy in turn provided students with scholarships, allowing many to afford a Columbia education when they normally would not have been able to.  NROTC was expelled in 1969, during the war in Vietnam, partly as a result of disagreement over faculty appointments and the application of course credit.  The expulsion occurred at a time of great civil unrest on Columbia's campus, with the riots and student takeover of the campus in April of '68.

Why has this debate resurfaced in 2008?

The debate resurfaced when SEAS students approached members of the Engineering Student Council about the possibility of receiving scholarships through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps.  Several of the Senateís reasons for not extending an invitation to ROTC did not apply to the NROTC, which (unlike Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC) has no program available to Columbia students.

In September during the ServiceNation Summit, both Barack Obama and John McCain endorsed bringing ROTC back to the Columbia campus, and their statements reignited student debate on these important issues.  President-elect Barack Obama has taken stances on the central issues of this debateóincluding ROTC at Columbia, Donít Ask Donít Tell, and the Solomon Amendment. During this time of political change, it is essential that students educate themselves as to whatís at stake.

When do we vote?

On November 24th, undergraduate students will receive a survey via e-mail.  Students will vote online.  The Columbia College version of the question is: "Do you support bringing a Naval ROTC program to Columbia's campus?"

There will be two forums sponsored by the councils during the week of November 17th.  One will take place at Barnard and one at Columbia, with both using a pro vs. con setup.  This means that there will be even representation for both sides of the argument and then questions about specific topics will be asked of the panel to stimulate conversation and inform the students attending the panels about NROTC.  We will provide more information on time and location as the councils release it.

Debate will continue to take place during the week, and voting begins on November 24th.

President Bollinger sent an e-mail saying that the Senate already discussed the issue in 2005. Does this mean the debate is pointless?

The full text of President Bollingerís e-mail is at this link

1. Bollinger refers to "ROTC sites at Fordham and St. John's," but there is in fact no Naval ROTC program available to Columbia students.  The ROTC programs available to Columbia students are listed here.

2. Bollinger says that, "as the Wall Street Journal reported last year, the Department of Defense (DOD) has, for its own fiscal reasons, instituted a policy of aggregating small numbers of ROTC students in urban areas."  However, this article (available free here) argues that this policy actually makes ROTC less effective.

3. Bollinger says that "we will not have programs on the campus that discriminate against students on the basis of such categories as race, gender, military veteran status, or sexual orientation."  However, we believe that boycotting all discriminatory programs does little to change these programs for the better. Students at Columbia study in countries where homosexuality itself is against the law, and important groups like the Red Cross (which discriminates by preventing gay men from donating blood) also work on campus.  The military too is a necessary institution of any country, and Columbia students could work to improve the climate of the American military.

4. Bollinger says that, "under the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the Defense Department, openly gay and lesbian students could or would be excluded from participating in ROTC activities."  This is not merely a Department of Defense policy, but mandated by a law enacted by Congress and signed by President Clinton.  DADT can only be overturned by passing a new law or by the Supreme Court overturning the existing law.

A small number of Columbia students are currently enrolled in ROTC programs.  Does this demonstrate a lack of interest that might prevent the military from reinstalling NROTC?

An invitation from Columbia to the military would not automatically cause the military to place an ROTC program at Columbia.  As with considering any investment, the military would have to first evaluate Columbia as a prospect.  However, an invitation from the university is a necessary step for the military to begin considering Columbia for an ROTC program.  Regarding the number of current cadets, the outsider reject status assigned to ROTC at Columbia, distance and poor access, lack of exposure, and lack of institutional cooperation may be causative factors for the low number of Columbia students enrolled in ROTC.  Even now, prior to their arrival, a number of incoming first year undergraduates at Columbia inquire whether they are eligible for ROTC support at one or more of the New York area ROTC programs.

The article in Wall Street Journal mentioned by President Bollinger (available free here) criticizes the military for the ROTC arrangement used in New York City, which places ROTC on the outskirts of the city's student population centers.  It is highly questionable whether the military's current placement of ROTC 'hubs', designed for dispersed rural regions, adequately serves a dense, concentrated metropolis like New York City.  In addition, the statistics accompanying the Wall Street Journal article demonstrate the necessity of more urban recruiting.

President-elect Barack Obama has also dealt with this issue repeatedly.  During a January 15th debate he said that ďOne of the striking things, as you travel around the country, you go into rural communities and you see how disproportionally they are carrying the load in this war in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan.Ē  During the ServiceNation Summit at Columbia University he said that ďitís also important that a president speaks to military service as an obligation not just of some, but of many.  You know, I traveled, obviously, a lot over the last 19 months.  And if you go to small towns, throughout the Midwest or the Southwest or the South, every town has tons of young people who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Thatís not always the case in other parts of the country, in more urban centers.  And I think itís important for the president to say, this is an important obligation. If we are going into war, then all of us go, not just some.Ē

Does NROTC exclude LGBT students?

Openly gay students will not necessarily be excluded from the ROTC classes (though they would be banned from enrolling in the military due to federal law).  They could, however, lose the NROTC scholarship.  Universities such as MIT have therefore created a fund to support its gay students in ROTC programs.  As other schools have done, Columbia could create a contingency plan to financially protect students who may be affected by Donít Ask, Donít Tell.

More information

The Advocates for ROTC Web site provides a detailed history of the controversy surrounding the relationship between Columbia and the military for the past several decades.  Of particular interest are Professor Allan Silverís October 2008 article ďWhen and Why ROTC Should Return to ColumbiaĒ and Spectator op-ed "Why ROTC Should Return to Columbia".  We also have Response to ROTC Posters with photos of posters by the coalition opposing return of ROTC to Columbia accompanied by an analysis of the arguments made in the posters.