Advocates for Columbia ROTC and Students United for America

Brief: Proposal to Return ROTC to Columbia’s Campus

Prepared by Sean L. Wilkes, CC’06; Chairman, Advocates for Columbia ROTC


Return the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to Columbia University’s Campus with the intent of allowing students greater accessibility to careers in the uniformed services and of further diversifying the matriculation pool of the University’s undergraduate schools.

        “One should view ROTC not as an example of the military in the university, but of the university in the military. ROTC allows for an acceptable level of civilian control of the military through the influence of civilian colleges and universities”

-Michael S. Neiberg, Assoc. Prof. of History, USAFA


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 for Cadets combining military science classes with hands-on leadership experience.

    Students’ studies focus on leadership development, problem solving techniques, management, strategic planning and organization, and professional ethics and responsibilities.

    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 harbour, 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, and gave them the opportunity to be commissioned as Naval Officers. NROTC was expelled in 1969, during the war in Vietnam. 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. Quoting Robert McCaughey in his book Stand Columbia:

“On May 15, 1969, the trustees accepted the recommendations of a faculty-student committee…that the NROTC program be discontinued on the Columbia campus. What had been hailed at the program’s inception in 1946 as an instance of university-government cooperation and had subsequently allowed some six hundred young men to attend Columbia College on full scholarships and another one thousand Columbians to take up commissions in the Naval Reserve had become, on the far side of the American Century, politically expendable.”

According to University documents, ROTC was removed for two basic reasons:
1) Opponents of the program maintained that the presence of any military organization on campus violated the goals of an academic community.
2) Many opponents disagreed with the appointment of military officers to the academic position of Professor within the Department of Naval Science, when most if not all had not obtained a degree above a Masters and were employed not by the university but by the DOD.


In April of 2003 the Columbia College Student Council, with prompting from student groups, presented a referendum alongside the CCSC elections to gauge student opinion on the issue of returning ROTC to Columbia’ Campus. In one of the highest voter turnouts in the history of student council elections, 973 students voted in support of ROTC while 530 voted against it. 65% to 35%.

Polling questions were reviewed by an impartial Columbia administrator, David Cheng, Assistant Dean for Research and Planning in the Student Affairs office. Once the changes he suggested were made, the questions were handed over to CCSC. The referendum question was then selected by the student council, and run through the CCSC elections to further ensure impartiality.


Benefits to Students:

  1. Scholarships: ROTC Cadets can obtain full scholarships worth between $17,000 and $29,000 providing many underprivileged students the opportunity to attend high-cost schools like Columbia.
  2. Leadership Training: ROTC is one of the premier leadership training programs in the world. Classroom instruction combined with hands-on training in management, information analysis, and health and physical fitness gives students an edge over their peers in any job market.
  3. Job Security and Opportunities: Active Duty Commissioned ROTC Cadets are guaranteed employment after graduation with extensive medical, dental, housing, and retirement benefits. In addition, extensive summer courses and internships are available for additional training and leadership experiences.
  4. Service to Country: ROTC serves as the primary conduit for the commissioning of Military Officers. Many students have a strong desire to serve their country as commissioned officers. A ROTC program at Columbia would permit these students to combine the high quality education that Columbia provides with preparation for a military career.
  5. Careers and Skills: The military is not made up of just infantrymen and pilots. It takes a whole range of professionals to support and run the military – from Doctors, Lawyers, Psychologists and Scientists to Supply Officers, Logisticians, Foreign Area Officers, and Veterinarians, as well as the requisite combat officers. Many advances in science and business have come out of the military, from the very successful burn treatments developed at the Army Institute of Surgical Research, to the product tracking and shipping systems used at such companies as FedEx, Barnes & Noble, and Wal-Mart, developed originally by military Quartermaster Corps.

Benefits to the University and Nation

  1. End "Ivory Tower" separation of Columbia and the mainstream. Reinstating ROTC would make a strong statement of Columbia’s dedication to its responsibility to produce wholly engaged national and world leaders. It would encourage students to serve the nation and the people alongside their fellow citizens.
  2. Societal benefit. Guide and improve the military community with higher quality, better-educated, diverse leaders: Officers with a Columbia-taught perspective of tolerance and respect directly benefit the diverse members of the military.
  3. Citizen Soldiers. Civilian educated officers bring to the military a wider and more rounded background. Columbia has a duty to produce leaders in all areas of society, including the military. ROTC graduates follow in the citizen-soldier tradition that has been favored by American society since the days of the minuteman: a non-aristocratic officer who sees himself or herself as an integral part of the society that he/she is duty-bound to protect.
  4. Educate the armed forces. ROTC on campus allows Columbia to work directly with the military to educate the military’s future leaders. To reject ROTC only serves to place the military out of reach of academic and civilian influence. ROTC is vital for continuing the flow of new ideas into the military by officers with a liberal education.
  5. Positive addition. A native cadet population increases diversity on campus and enriches the community. Cadets state that ROTC provides focus, discipline and pragmatic skills in their college education. Military service via ROTC embodies selfless service, duty, respect, integrity, responsibility, courage and leadership as core values.
  6. Enrich Columbia educational and career opportunities. Provides students with an on-campus military resource, increased academic options and career choices. Adds military virtues and perspectives to Columbia’s intellectual pool.
  7. Increase interest for Columbia. A well-advertised ROTC program at Columbia combining uniquely Columbia and ROTC benefits will attract more students to Columbia.
  8. Professional benefit. The 21st century military requires smarter, better-educated, ethical leaders. The military is becoming a faster-reacting force with an emphasis on professional acumen and the adaptation of technology. The situations and missions faced by the military are more varied and complex, whether they are humanitarian, defensive, or nation-building.
  9. Fair treatment for ROTC cadets. Cadets deserve the benefits of a Columbia-based ROTC program. Ending separate and unequal status for ROTC training at Columbia would improve the lives of cadets who must travel elsewhere. By not forcing Columbia students to pursue career and educational goals at other schools, you encourage a sense of community and loyalty to Columbia as a school, which may benefit the school when those ROTC students become alumni.
  10. Practice inclusion, not exclusion. Fight ignorance and misunderstanding about the military at Columbia. ROTC fosters understanding and respect for the military and its members and helps close the civil-military gap.
  11. ROTC scholarships. ROTC provides scholarships and financial assistance to many of its participants and can help qualified, underprivileged students attend Columbia.

Changes in ROTC since the Vietnam Era

  1. Reduction of the importance of drill: In the 1960s many, including some in the military, criticized drill as outdated, irrelevant, mindless, and embarrassing to the student. As such, with prompting from various universities on the issue, drill requirements were significantly reduced and in some cases eliminated completely. In the modern ROTC program, drill is relatively infrequent and is taught simply to give students familiarity with the commands and training processes of enlisted soldiers, who they will soon be commanding as 2nd Lieutenants or Ensigns when commissioned.
    “To succeed in the new American military system, ROTC had to focus less on drill and more on assuring its place on the campus through congruity with the goals of higher education” (Michael Neiberg, Making Citizen Soldiers; Harvard University Press: 2000,. Pg 138)
  2. Substitute Coursework: Professors of Military Science were authorized to substitute the time formerly spent on drill with academic coursework. “MIT, for example, replaced it with cadet research on aspects of engineering and physics relevant to the military.” Others had students take courses in such areas as “American military history, world military history, diplomatic history of the United States, political geography, American government, international relations, geopolitics, international trade and finance, psychology, biology, physics, chemistry” and so on and so forth (Neiberg, 140).
  3. Professional Recognition: While the academic qualifications of ROTC officers improved since the 1960s, many university administrators and faculty still disagreed with the academic titles of Professor and Assistant Professor given to ROTC officers. Some universities voted to modify the titles, while others removed them altogether. “The services initially resisted this change but amended their stance after the civilian leadership of the DOD accepted the position that the titles themselves were not important” (Neiberg, 144). Many colleges and universities still confer the official title of Professor to ROTC officers, but others, including Ivy League sister Princeton University, have found alternatives. In Princeton’s case, the ROTC Professor of Military Science is given the academic title of Instructor. Columbia could clearly do this too.
  4. Academic Credit: Another major contention many universities had was with the credit granted for ROTC courses, which many considered academically inferior to other coursework at the colleges. This was challenged by many in the military who feared,
    1) “That faculties were repudiating the military and the military model for organization and authority”; and 2) “That losing credit would adversely effect enrollment in ROTC” (Neiberg, 146)
    This was repudiated even by some in the military, who “noted that engineering schools rarely gave any academic credit to ROTC, yet several engineering colleges, like Georgia Tech, supported strong and vibrant ROTC programs.” Again to give a contemporary example, Princeton has a strong Army ROTC program at their school which grants no credit whatsoever to their students, while those Cadets who cross-enrol at Princeton ROTC from New Jersey’s public university do gain credit from their institution. (Neiberg, 147)

Cons against the ROTC Program
Arguments made against the return of ROTC to Columbia and Responses

  1. Lack of Interest: Today’s privileged Columbia students are not interested in ROTC or serving their country.
    Answer: The number of students who currently participate in off campus military training programs (a total of 14 as of Jan. 2004) despite the travel requirements and hardships of integrating them with the rest of their curricula shows that there is indeed interest. In addition the many benefits of a military career are attractive to many students, who simply don’t see it as an option going to a school lacking in an ROTC program.
  2. Military courses not Columbia-caliber. Military courses are sub-standard. Officers are not qualified to teach at Columbia and should not be recognized as professors.
    Answer: Many cadets and midshipmen taking the Advanced ROTC courses might tend to disagree; ROTC coursework is challenging and engaging. And if classes in weight-lifting and fencing have enough academic value to receive credit, one wonders why Military Science is considered so inferior. Even so, ROTC Courses do not necessarily have to be given credit, as shown by Princeton’s program. Conversely, Columbia could volunteer to work with ROTC Officers to tailor and improve coursework so as to make it qualified for academic credit, something that the university cannot do with external programs located at other schools.
  3. The Program would be too costly: Bringing an ROTC program to campus and having to pay for all the supplies and books and personnel would be too costly for Columbia’s already tight budget.
    Answer: There is no cost to Columbia for bringing an ROTC program to campus beyond providing office space for the officers and classroom space for the classes. The personnel and supplies are all paid for by the Department of Defense. The park service at Grant’s Tomb has even indicated that they would allow use of that space for the small amount of drill and ceremony and outdoor training that may be required of students. On the other hand Columbia will be saving money in the form of financial aid and scholarship funds. Each student that attends on scholarship constitutes $17k to $29k less that the university has to spend in the form of financial aid. ROTC, in effect, brings far more money to the school than it takes away.
  4. Non Discrimination Policy: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Don’t Pursue (DADT) goes against university non-discriminatory policies and therefore prohibits ROTC’s presence.
    Answer: Many on this campus believe that an anti-homosexual policy in any shape or form is wrong and favor changing the policy. However, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is not just a military policy, it is a Federal Law rooted in 10 USC 654. ROTC is bound by Federal Law as is the rest of the military. To change this situation one must address not ROTC or even the DOD, but the United States Congress. To disallow the presence of so positive and advantageous a program simply because it is required to follow a federal law is just as wrong.
    In addition DADT does not necessarily prevent openly gay/lesbian students from participating in ROTC programs: it only prevents them from receiving ROTC scholarships and being commissioned (see note below); and it prevents cadets and servicepersons from being open and public about their sexual preferences in the military.
    Many saw this law as a stepping stone to phase-in the full integration of homosexuals and lesbians into the military, but in order for this to happen Congress must change the law again, to offer protection to all, regardless of sexual preference. The military has no say in the matter except to make recommendations to Congress.

    Note: The answer above follows from a question as to whether there were any examples of ROTC programs being implemented in which only the stipend and commissioning aspects (a Dept. of Defense issue) were deemed as discriminatory under DADT, while any campus activities (such as classes, training, meetings) would be open to everyone, even though the program is funded by the Dept of Defense. There are indeed examples of such a program being implemented: The AF ROTC program allows non contracted students who wish to do so to participate in the program for the leadership experience and training without stipend or commissioning requirements, and the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law does not apply to them.
  5. Financial Aid: What are the details of the money received? Would not ROTC cadets be receiving scholarship funds above and beyond the amount of financial aid they have, thereby getting more financial aid than he/she would need?
    The ROTC monthly stipend is given to any student who is contracted (who has signed a service agreement for a certain amount of time after college). The scholarships are merit based and not based on need, but according to Columbia’s financial aid policy these funds would be used to reduce the student loan and/or work study part of a financial aid package and once that need is eliminated the scholarship will then be used to reduce any Columbia grant received. So, for instance, if a student is using work study and loans to pay for $8000 of annual Columbia tuition, but then receives a $22,000 scholarship from ROTC, $14,000 of that would be used to reduce the Columbia grant specifically, $8000 in place of the work study and loans.
  6. Maintain intellectual elitism. The military perspective has no place in Columbia's intellectual discourse.
    Answer: The military officer is a professional, as much as any doctor or lawyer. Officers are educated, many field grade officers having obtained at least one if not multiple higher degrees, and worldly, having been more places and seen more of the world than even some in academia. Among them are experts in their fields who could prove to be invaluable resources to the education of Columbia students. Those fields in the military also cover a wide range. Along with the combat officers, pilots, and ship captains in the armed forces are financial officers, doctors, nurses, scientists, lawyers, personnel officers, and administrators, among others.
  7. ROTC is racist: Just like the rest of the military, ROTC is racist, preferring protestant white males to serve in their officer caste over just about anyone else.
    Answer: This is not true, and one look at the numbers will tell you so. For the most relevant example, look at the local Army ROTC program: As of 2002 over 50% of their Corps of Cadets were minorities, including 23% Hispanic. As President Bollinger’s fight for affirmative action in the Supreme Court showed, the Military has been one of the staunchest proponents of affirmative action. A Supreme Court Brief filed in support of U. Michigan’s AA policy by many of the nation’s best known military officers and former top Pentagon officials stated that service academies and ROTC programs need affirmative action to maintain a highly diversified officer corps. Officials supporting the brief included Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander in the first Persian Gulf War; Adm. William Crowe, Gen. Hugh Shelton and Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, all former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. Anthony Zinni, former head of the U.S. Central Command.
  8. The military restricts free speech. ROTC restricts the free speech of cadets, which is unacceptable for Columbia students.
    Answer: ROTC does not restrict the free speech of cadets and midshipmen. ROTC may request that students not make political statements while in uniform, as that uniform represents the U.S. military and could falsely misrepresent the policies or positions of the government, but it does not restrict the student in any way from expressing his or her own political opinions.

For a full list of resources on the arguments made regarding ROTC at Columbia please visit which contains many articles, mostly Columbia Spectator and New York Times, on the issue. also includes information on the movement at other Ivy League schools and a broad range of resources on such topics as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Solomon Amendment.


Sean L. Wilkes

Chairman, Advocates for Columbia ROTC

Jennifer Thorpe

President, Students United for America

Columbia Group Register as a supporter of ROTC at Columbia Columbia Coverage Advocates for ROTC Home Page