Stanford’s Anti-ROTC Policy is Self-Contradictory

by Yishai Kabaker on April 27, 2007

It has been thirty-eight years since Stanford removed its ROTC program in protest of the Vietnam War, and fourteen years since Congress passed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law allowing homosexuals to serve in the military, but requiring they keep their orientation a secret. Today many elite universities, including Stanford, now cite “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a reason to sustain their ROTC-free campuses. However, Stanford’s continued policy of unaccrediting ROTC reveals discriminatory tendencies towards the military that are counter-productive, and ultimately a censure on students’ freedom of speech.

ROTC was unaccredited and expelled from campus by a series of Faculty Senate votes in 1969 inspired by the controversy and general anti-war sentiment surrounding Vietnam. Many articles have been written and attempts made since then to bring ROTC back, with no success. Given the opportunity to return to campus after so many years, the military might decline the invitation because of the current trend within the armed forces to consolidate ROTC programs into regional rather than individual school hubs. In spite of this, Stanford is still ignoring its obligation to its students and the country by maintaining its discriminatory policy.

After accomplishing a victory over the military, and by proxy the Vietnam War effort, Stanford’s administration has reinforced obstacles and hindrances to joining the ROTC program. Besides imposing a long commute to other campuses (Berkeley, Santa Clara, or San Jose for the Naval, Army, and Air Force ROTC respectively), Stanford will only accept transfer credits from students if they are enrolled in the sister school, forcing cadets to pay thousands of dollars to another university in order to obtain transfer credit. Adding insult to injury, these courses only count as elective credit. The original justification for this policy was an alleged academic unsuitability of ROTC curriculum. Under this logic ROTC courses like “The Evolution of the United States Air and Space Power,” “Naval Ship Systems” and “Navigation and Naval Operations” are today deemed academically unfit for Stanford while “Chick Flicks and Breakup Songs” receives full credit without question.

Although not the faculty’s focus during the Vietnam Era, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has become a major rationale for the continuation of this restrictive policy. Instituted in 1993 by an act of Congress and championed by the Clinton administration as a compromise, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” forbids gays and lesbians in the military from attempting to marry a person of the same sex, committing homosexual acts, or even discussing their sexuality. Between 1994 and 2005, 11,082 soldiers have been discharged due to violations of this policy.

Elite universities have justified their continued refusal to accept ROTC on their campuses by citing this discriminatory military policy. However, by banning ROTC programs these universities are practicing exactly the same illiberal discrimination which they protest. Claiming forced speech, these institutions argue that accepting ROTC on campus would be a violation of their anti-discrimination policies which expressly protects sexual orientation. To address the restrictions placed on homosexuals in the military, elite universities have prevented all their students from participating in military training. As a gay man, it pains me greatly to be prohibited from openly serving my country. However, I do not believe that restricting other prospective soldiers’ pursuit of military careers is in anyway warranted, and it does not help the situation. Complaints and grievances with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy should be addressed to Congress, since only the country’s legislators have the ability to change the policy.

With incredibly well-educated administrators and trustees at Stanford, it’s safe to assume that the individuals in charge recognize that politicians, not generals, mandate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In light of this, their continued insistence that opposition to ROTC reflects concern for discriminatory behavior is at best misguided and at worst a malicious use of a noble cause for political means. If the latter, it is disgraceful that the fight for equal rights should be used to further anti-war sentiments born in the Vietnam era.

The current anti-ROTC policy seems to contradict another often stated, but factually untrue, liberal complaint about the armed forces: that they disproportionately recruit low income and poorly educated men and women. This belief has even lead Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) to suggest reinstating the draft to equalize alleged disparities. A more efficient way to increase the socioeconomic diversity of the armed forces would involve simply reopening elite university doors to ROTC, or at the very least encouraging full accreditation of the program. This would resolve the contradiction that elite universities face when they scoff at the military as uneducated and discriminatory, but discourage their own presumably egalitarian, intelligent, and enlightened students from joining.

The military is far from perfect in its treatment of homosexuality, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, made evident in recent remarks. General Pace’s comment that homosexually is inherently immoral and the military should not condone immoral behavior validates some of the criticism of the Academy. Homosexuals serving openly have not affected unit cohesion in the British, Australian, or Israeli armed forces; nor has it hindered the twenty-nine other countries that allow homosexuals to openly serve in their militaries. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a flawed policy grounded in faulty logic that should be repealed. Hopefully our generation will rise to the occasion to end it.

Until then, we should not punish those students who wish to serve this country by setting obstacles in their way. Denying our nation and its armed forces the skill and education that Stanford and other great universities produce only harms progress towards a more tolerant military. It also denies our nation the best products of its education system for the advancement and improvement of national defense. I look forward to the day when, as a homosexual, I can openly serve in the military and when my fellow Stanford students can openly and easily participate in an ROTC program with pride. In the meantime, concerns over the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy should be directed at the policymakers who enacted it rather than the service members who are required to enforce it.

Special Thanks to Senior Staff Writer Milton Solorzano for his contributions to this report.