Ad Hoc Committee Recommends Return of ROTC

Scott Sagan, a member of the ad hoc committee on ROTC (photo: Stanford Magazine).
The ad hoc committee of faculty, students, and staff that has been exploring the possibility of ROTC’s return to campus has [released its decision](http://facultysenate/2010_2011/reports/SenD6491_ROTC_rpt_April_2011.pdf), preparing for next week’s Faculty Senate meeting, where the full Faculty Senate will vote on the issue.

Here’s the text of their recommendation:

Accordingly, the Committee unanimously recommends the following:

  1. The President of Stanford University should invite the U.S. military to reestablish an on-campus ROTC program consistent with the recommendations of this Committee.
  2. The Faculty Senate should appoint immediately a Stanford ROTC Committee as a standing subcommittee of the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy.  This committee would be available to advise the President during any exchanges between the university and the military that might ensue from the invitation.  The committee also would work with ROTC representatives on the design and scope of the Stanford-ROTC program.
  3. The Stanford ROTC Committee and designated ROTC representatives will review the instructors and instruction of ROTC courses on campus.  This committee, through C-USP, will recommend, on a case-by-case basis, whether an instructor be given a lecturer or visiting professor status, and will be responsible for maintaining coordination between the university and the national ROTC programs.  After the first ROTC instructors have been appointed, the Stanford ROTC Committee may be expanded to include some of these instructors.
  4. ROTC courses should be open to all Stanford students whether or not the students are in ROTC.  Exceptions need to be approved by the Stanford ROTC Committee.
  5. The courses in the Stanford-ROTC program may be eligible for either academic or activity course credit, following existing Stanford curriculum review and approval processes.
  6. The Stanford ROTC committee should encourage opportunities for Stanford faculty and ROTC instructors to design jointly taught courses that could meet both academic credit standards and ROTC training requirements.

This will certainly provoke more debate, but will also smooth the potential for ROTC’s return. The recommendations themselves are not surprising. The central recommendation, that ROTC be allowed to return is no surprise, considering the recent moves by peer universities. The idea that ROTC courses would be taught by professors who are Stanford-approved and that these courses will be open to everyone is also totally unsurprising, in spite of some concerns to the contrary. The primary loose end is in number 5 – the ad hoc committee doesn’t take a stance on courses for credit – but that may be a more contentious issue for the Faculty Senate in any case, so it makes sense to leave it aside in order to get the other recommendations through. Beyond the central recommendations, what’s in the report?

Sections 1 and 2 of the report are largely historical in scope and cover the history of American education through the prism of officer education and the history of ROTC at Stanford. Sections 3-5 will constitute the meat of the report for most readers. Let’s run through them.

  • Section 3 is the rationale for ROTC’s return. This section emphasizes Stanford’s role in contributing “to the success of [America’s] public institutions.” In line with this argument, this section highlights three important reasons for ROTC’s return: attracting the students who will be future leaders in the US military, making those students better leaders through a liberal education, and improving the education of other students through contact with the military and the issues that the military confronts.
  • Section 4 is a description of the ad hoc committee’s vision for how ROTC on the Stanford campus might look. This section looks at how other elite universities have dealt with ROTC and transports that model to Stanford. The central thrust is that Stanford will have a hands-on approach to selecting visiting professors/lecturers and will carefully analyze the courses to see if they warrant academic or activity (à la Athletics classes) credit.
  • Section 5 is a set of counterarguments to the “most serious objections” to ROTC’s return. The first such objection is the “antidiscrimination” argument. While acknowledging that it is wrong, in the eyes of the committee, that transgender students are excluded from the military, the committee argues that “institutional disengagement is an unpromising way of generating mutual criticism.” Increasing interaction with the military can help to bring down these barriers. The second objection is that of the “civilian-military divide,” an argument that Stanford’s values are incompatible with the US military. Here, the committee argues that even if the American political establishment does misuse the military on occasion, that is not a reflection on the military itself. The committee counters an argument that Stanford stands in opposition to unquestioning obedience by arguing that today’s military officers are in fact very independent, especially at an operational level, and need to have critical problem-solving skills. Another argument is that ROTC would be a vocational program at a prevocational school – the committee argues that many freshman arrive on campus with an idea about what they plan to do (see: the high number of pre-medical students in the freshman class) and that this program is no different. The financial aid that Stanford offers can cover students who leave the ROTC program. Finally, the committee argues that academic freedom is not a concern inasmuch as students with a wide variety of plans are encouraged to avoid contact with classified (e.g. leaked) documents – ROTC cadets are not alone.

On to the true commentary: I don’t have much to add here. Little in the report is truly surprising, although perhaps the lack of mention of the recent ASSU poll warrants mention here. It seems as though the committee decided that it was not an important factor in reestablishing ROTC – that can probably be chalked up as a victory for the Abstain Campaign, since their primary goal was to remove the poll from consideration. Overall, I’m clearly in favor of ROTC’s return and the character of the program that Stanford has outlined is in line with the what I’ve mentioned before, although it’s better articulated in the committee’s report. We’ll see what next week’s meeting holds for the final decision, but it seems plausible that there will be an active program in the next few years.

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