ROTC-Free Zone

There is a quiet push to bring Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs back to some top college campuses.

In the late 1960s, a number of ROTC programs were tossed from enlightened environs like Harvard as a reaction to the conflict in Vietnam.

Recently, presidential candidates Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) expressed their opposition to the (outdated) ban when they spoke at ROTC-Free Zone Columbia University. McCain said “Shouldn’t the students here be exposed to the attractiveness of serving in the military, particularly as an officer?” Obama called Columbia’s position a “mistake.”

The two senators are not alone in their dismay. Many are arguing for their return 30 years later. On the Ivy League circuit, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth have reinstated their programs, though it seems Dartmouth’s is less than robust. The candidates seem to have hit a chord at Columbia: It has been reported that in 2005 students there voted by a 2-1 margin to readmit ROTC only to have the move squashed by the school president Lee Bollinger who balked at DoD’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.”

Bollinger is not the Lone Ranger, and a number of schools have balked at the DoD policy on the military service of gays. But, as one The Washington Post columnist noted, DoD protects people equally, gay or straight, and the schools with the ban are happy to take the scholarship bucks the ROTC students bring, though they must fulfill their ROTC obligations at a nearby campus. (Cross-campus coops haves become customary, notably when a campus does not have the numbers to support a program of its own.) 

Our guess is if federal money were withheld from any of these schools, “Don’t Ask” would be but a fuzzy memory. At the same time, we’re not quite sure why academic leaders would marry DoD policy with denying students the opportunity to serve on their own campuses. (Sort of ironic, really.) In fact, the view taken by campus administrators seems SO yesterday, as evidenced by overwhelming student interest to reinstate ROTC.

Why no balks at the DoD’s so-called combat exclusion clause, too, is telling. 

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