It’s time to bring back ROTC to nation’s elite universities

Changes: ROTC programs were banned at top universities due to the military policy of excluding openly gay service members.

With the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” elite colleges now have a chance to make good on their promises and bring the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps back to campuses.

For the past four decades, ROTC has been barred from some of the nation’s most prestigious schools, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Stanford. The program was first pushed off campuses in the 1960s and ’70s in protest of the Vietnam War and has been kept away in protest of government policy excluding openly gay men and women from serving in the Armed Forces.

“I look forward to pursuing discussions with military officials and others to achieve Harvard’s full and formal recognition of ROTC,” school President Drew Gilpin Faust said in a statement. Likewise, Columbia’s Lee Bollinger celebrated the legislation: “We now have the opportunity for a new era in the relationship between universities and our military services.”

Achieving formal recognition for ROTC on elite campuses will be an important victory. It will eliminate some of the more backhanded arrangements the various universities created to justify their acceptance of ROTC dollars. For example, Harvard’s practice has been to “allow” patriotic alumni to pay cadets’ ROTC fees through a private trust fund.

As welcome as these changes will be, however, the lifting of the ban against ROTC will be a lost opportunity unless advocates press both universities and the military for more substantive changes.

The chief hurdle is that bringing ROTC to campuses is expensive. Several liberal commentators and faculty have recently observed — with more than a touch of triumph — that a money-strapped Pentagon is unlikely to establish new units where there has been such limited student interest.

At the same time, however, top military leadership has become increasingly aware of the social costs associated with current policy. In a speech at Duke University in September, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the military’s limited presence in the Northeast and urban areas has left large swaths of the country “void of relationships and understanding of the Armed Forces.” If the Pentagon is serious about these “costs,” it will have to push its own manpower bureaucracy to invest in a more balanced officer corps.

Elite universities, in turn, clearly have an important role to play in redressing the growing social and geographic imbalances within the military. While the Pentagon must be willing to step forward, universities can shoulder some of the costs involved in renewing ROTC programs.

Top-tier schools should aim to have top-tier ROTC programs. In so doing, they would help ensure that the American officer corps reflects America as a whole — thereby allowing ROTC to fulfill its original purpose. No less important, returning ROTC to elite university campuses will restore a proud tradition of military service.

The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” provides an opening for repairing relations between some of the nation’s top universities and the armed forces — a rift that has been unhealthy for schools, their students and the military.

It is an opportunity that should not go to waste.

 

This article appeared in The Weekly Standard.

Op Edsop-edOpinion

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017 (Bay City News file photo)
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a COVID-19 update at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Gavin Newsom under COVID: The governor dishes on his pandemic life

By Emily Hoeven CalMatters It was strange, after 15 months of watching… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Deputy public defender Chris Garcia outside the Hall of Justice on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
As pandemic wanes, SF public defender hopes clients will get ‘their day in court’

Like other attorneys in San Francisco, Deputy Public Defender Chris Garcia has… Continue reading

Most Read