ROTC Surging on Elite Campuses

Army ROTC Shoulder Sleeve Insignia and logo

A dramatic change in the status of Reserve Officer Training Corps program is sweeping Ivy and other elite undergraduate campuses.  The ROTC, which is managed by the various armed services, offers government-subsidized courses in Military Science to host institutions, with the primary aim of training future Army, Marine, Navy, and Air Force officers for service after graduation.  Previously absent from many Ivy League and peer campuses, ROTC has seen a remarkable shift in its fortunes in the wake of new Department of Defense recruiting policies.

Over the last month or so, Harvard signed an agreement for a Navy ROTC post to be established on campus, and Columbia’s University Senate formally invited the military to bring ROTC programs to its campus; just three days ago, a student referendum was held at Stanford with undergraduates coming out in favor of a similar move. 

The sudden change seems to be tied to the recent repeal of the Department of Defense’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, enacted during the Clinton Administration, which had prohibited open homosexuals from serving in the military.  Widely rounded by civil rights advocates as discriminatory, it had been cited by many colleges and universities as contradictory to their inclusive approaches to undergraduate education. 

Now that homosexuals in uniform can openly identify their sexual preference, this barrier to an ROTC presence on many campuses has fallen to the wayside, and liberal proponents of civil rights have dropped their objections accordingly.  At Columbia University, the Senate voted 51-17, with one abstention to reach out to the military shortly after DADT was overturned – a dramatic reversal of a 2005 vote of 51-10 opposed to the same proposition.

That said, some still raise civil rights objections with the military’s recruitment policy barring transgender and disabled persons from serving.  At Stanford, the student-led “Campaign to Abstain” enjoined students to abstain from voting, arguing that a plebiscite should not be held which denies equal participation in University-sanctioned activities to any members of the Stanford community.  The Campaign seems to have been somewhat effective; 38.8% of undergraduates voted to abstain, compared to 41.1% in favor of the proposal and 17% against.  The campus controversy was apparently quite impassioned, flaring up beyond respectful dialogue; as reported by the Dartmouth Review‘s sister newspaper, the Stanford Review, pro-ROTC posters were vandalized in the run-up to the referendum.

Dartmouth has so far been spared from such divisive controversy, perhaps because its ROTC’s status isn’t up to question.  Like many peer schools, including Columbia and Harvard, Dartmouth banished ROTC from campus during the the Vietnam War.  However, unlike many of the same institutions, Dartmouth welcomed ROTC back during the mid 1980s, and reaffirmed its presence in the 90s following the institution of the DADT policy; in Harvard’s and Columbia’s cases, ROTC has been proscribed since the early 1970s.  Currently, one Hanover-based instructor in Military Science leads the Army ROTC program at Dartmouth and its dozen or so cadets in coordination with a nearby ROTC post at Norwich University in Vermont.

— Sam A. Ticker