This Unit’s Out of Line

Raechel Wong/Guardian

After President Obama repealed the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy last December, campuses that had rejected the initiative have welcomed back the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

Despite banning the program during the Vietnam War, universities such as Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and UC Berkeley have been inspired by the new change to give the programs a second or third chance.
Members of college ROTC programs can receive upwards of a full scholarship plus a monthly stipend, and in turn, they take one ROTC class a semester and do drills once a week. Of course, there’s also the requisite early-morning physical training three times a week.

When an ROTC candidate graduates, he’s commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the military, and is expected to serve four to six years. UCSD doesn’t have an ROTC program; it’s a cross-town affiliate of neighboring schools University of San Diego and San Diego State.

But UCSD aside, universities should not settle for reinstating ROTC when the myriad other reasons that kept ROTC off their campuses haven’t been addressed. Until the ROTC class at least meets the universities’ minimum standards, the program should remain barred to retain these schools’ integrity.

Elite universities broke away from ROTC decades ago because the military was unable to adequately prepare prospective students. According to Stanford history professor Barton Bernstein, the universities couldn’t justify giving students academic credit for classes that maintain “the intellectual depth of a high school freshman course.”

University of Florida Professor of Law Diane H. Mazur said that, over the past few decades, ROTC programs have not raised their academic standards. This means the main problem that caused the program to be fixed has not been rejected, and so, instead of accepting a piecemeal offering, the universities should hold out for a true commitment to their academic standards that have brought them world-class prestige. They should either wait, or open up negotiations about raising the bar on course difficulty.

While some argue that it’s colleges’ patriotic duty to allow ROTC on campus, the purpose of undergraduate education is not to recruit the country’s military, but to help shape citizens with the knowledge and critical thinking skills to make their own decisions about government and military actions, and their own decision on whether to join the military.

So it’s a problem that when one peripheral problem of ROTC is fixed, the schools are jumping back on the bandwagon.

The Boston Globe reported Harvard President Drew Faust as saying that the issue is “entirely linked to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.” Faust may claim that there is only one reason ROTC is barred on campuses, but she shouldn’t allow ROTC back on campus until the original reason these programs were discontinued has been resolved.

The schools that dropped their ROTC programs sacrificed more than just scholarships; the 1996 Solomon Amendment withheld federal funding from schools if they refused to host ROTC programs.

But schools shouldn’t have to choose between funding and compromising their academic standards. Instead, schools should stand their ground and wait until ROTC repeals its threat. After all, Ivy League schools have such huge endowments that losing out on some government money should be a non-issue.

Another reason universities chose to keep ROTC out of their hallowed halls was to protest the nation’s unjust wars. While President Obama claims the end of the Iraq War is in sight, he’s also escalated it by sending in tens of thousands of additional troops, making his promises subject to suspicion. Even with differing circumstances, the climate of two unpopular wars mirror those of the circumstances that led to the banning of ROTC, circumstances that shouldn’t change based on one non-relevant change.

UCSD is a public institution, and doesn’t have the Ivy League luxury of rejecting federal funds based on moral academic principles. After all, the entire UC system endowment (divided between 10 schools) is $4.9 billion, while Harvard alone pulls in a whopping $27.6 billion.

So, if ROTC academic principles are raised to appease universities, perhaps more colleges will be more responsive to allowing a military presence back on campus. Until then, universities that can afford to should hold their ground and wait out the storm.

Readers can contact Allison Gauss at [email protected]