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Ousted ROTC may go back to school

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's college-application season, and GI Joe is hoping for an acceptance letter from Stanford.

Nearly 40 years after the U.S. military's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship program was banished from the elite California school, Stanford's faculty Senate earlier this month heard the case for bringing it back.

"Institutions like Stanford have an obligation to uphold this 200-year-old [tradition] of the citizen-soldier," said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Stanford professor David Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy has teamed up with Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Perry, another Stanford professor, in the drive to restore ROTC 40 years after protests of the Vietnam War helped drive it off the campus.

"We fear the implications of having a distant military, and a modest way to bring about civil societies is through ROTC programs," Mr. Kennedy said. "That is part of our argument."

The passions of the 1960s anti-war movement are a distant memory, but it's not clear whether other Ivy League universities — including Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Brown — will follow Stanford's lead in bringing back banished ROTC programs.

Federal law, enacted in the 1990s, prohibits colleges and universities from receiving federal funding if they don't allow military recruiters or ROTC units on campus.

One modern complication is the clash between university nondiscrimination codes and the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans openly gay men and women from serving in the ranks.

Harvard students now can participate in ROTC through the regional program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with students from six other Boston-area schools, but not on the Cambridge campus, John Longbrake, media director at Harvard, said in an e-mail.

"There are not currently any plans to modify the arrangement," Mr. Longbrake wrote. "We will, of course, follow any federal policy changes with interest."

Yale's ROTC program is hosted by the University of Connecticut at Storrs, while California Institute of Technology students interested in ROTC courses must go to the University of California at Los Angeles. Similar off-campus arrangements have been set up for schools such as the University of Chicago and Columbia.

Barack Obama, who attended Columbia, criticized his alma mater's decision not to reinstate the ROTC program during the presidential campaign in 2008. The program was dropped in 1969 amid fierce anti-war demonstrations.

"The notion that young people here at Columbia or anywhere, in any university, aren't offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think, is a mistake," Mr. Obama said.

The school last considered — and rejected — the idea of restoring ROTC on campus in 2005. Columbia President Lee Bollinger in 2008 cited the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and the fact that Columbia's openly gay students would be barred from participating as the "predominant reason" for the school's stance.

"That is inconsistent with the fundamental values of the university," Mr. Bollinger said.

But Stanford's decision to reconsider the ROTC question is part of a larger upswing for the program, whose Army, Navy and Air Force units typically offer full tuition scholarships in exchange for several years of military service upon graduation.

Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said there has been an upward trend in ROTC unit enrollment over the past few years.

Army ROTC participation has increased from 25,180 in 2007 to 33,555 for 2010. Naval and Marine ROTC has increased from 6,299 to 7,724 in 2010. The Air Force ROTC has jumped to 15,478 from 13,144 in 2007.

ROTC programs are also prime training grounds for the nation's next generation of military leaders. Pentagon figures show that ROTC graduates constitute 56 percent of all Army officers, 41 percent of Air Force officers, 20 percent of Navy officers and 11 percent of U.S. Marine Corps officers.

There are 327 higher-education schools hosting ROTC programs, and many have more than one service unit. Cornell, for example, has Army, Navy, and Air Force host units.

Princeton, with 40 students in its program, is a host university that has kept its program intact. The ROTC program is not an academic department, but falls under the "residential life" department.

Other schools offer students an opportunity to take ROTC courses at a host university. Ms. Lainez said that nearly 1,800 schools have affiliations with the primary host schools. For example, Stanford's 11 students on ROTC scholarships take their military courses at Santa Clara University, the University of California at Berkeley and San Jose State University.

The return of ROTC to Stanford would carry a particular symbolism because of the fiery way in which the military/academic program left.

Anti-war demonstrators burned down the Navy ROTC building on campus in 1968. Two years later, Stanford stopped giving credit for ROTC curriculum courses, citing what administrators said was the low academic rigor of the classes. The ROTC program was banished from the campus in 1973.

Mr. Kennedy said that politics and academic standards both played a role in the decision to boot ROTC. "The protest against ROTC became a protest of war," he said.

The faculty committee studying reinstatement will be in charge of evaluating academic quality. Mr. Kennedy said that Stanford probably will want a role in the faculty appointments of those who teach the ROTC courses.

The Pentagon's Ms. Lainez said the military services have not approached a large number of schools in the post-Vietnam era to open new ROTC programs.

"The current infrastructure is sufficient to both produce the desired number of commissionees, and … there is abundant opportunity for interested students to participate," she said.

Mr. Kennedy said the "don't ask, don't tell" issue still could prove a hurdle for Stanford, but is considering action by the Obama administration to end the policy in the near future. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, earlier this month introduced a bill to end "don't ask, don't tell," citing in part what he says is its negative effect on ROTC programs.

"If ROTC can't recruit on campus, we do not have the opportunity to get other kinds of people on campus into the military …," Mr. Lieberman told reporters March 3. "They tie together."

Mr. Kennedy agreed that the elimination of "don't ask, don't tell" would help the reinstatement cause at Stanford.

"The premise on which Perry and I are operating was that 'don't ask, don't tell' was going to go away," Mr. Kennedy said. "My guess is that nothing will happen if it [doesn't] go away or is modified."