Future of ROTC Hangs in Leeway

With the likely repeal of the military’s 17 year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and a general reappraisal of higher education’s relationship with the armed services, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) appears closer to returning to campus.

An ad-hoc Faculty Senate committee will release a report this spring advising the Senate on possible action regarding ROTC. Students who participate in ROTC programs receive an officer’s commission upon graduation as well as tuition assistance. If brought back, the program’s return will end a 37 year hiatus from campus.

According to Ryan Mac of the New York Times, the Faculty Senate decided in 1970 that ROTC courses should no longer receive university credit. Shortly thereafter all three branches pulled their ROTC programs.

Three issues resulted in student discontent with ROTC during the final stages of the Vietnam War. First, professors were concerned about the quality of credits received by students in the program. Mac quoted history Professor Barton Bernstein, active then and now on the issue, who complained about the poor intellectual level of the classes and the university’s lack of control over the people teaching the courses.

History professor David Kennedy, who researched the history of ROTC on campus, also mentioned “punitive clauses” that existed in the 1960s and 1970s as a reason for the discontent. These clauses immediately conscripted any student who dropped out of the program. They no longer exist, which makes them a non-issue in the campus discussion.

General dissent toward the Vietnam War also likely factored into the perception of ROTC on campus. Anti-war fervor manifested itself specifically in 1968 when arsonists burnt the campus’s Navy ROTC building to the ground.

But student and faculty sentiments seem to have changed. In March, the Faculty Senate overwhelmingly voted to allow for the formation of an ad-hoc committee to explore the possibility of bringing back ROTC. The attitude of the Senate seemed to indicate that any return of the program would be contingent upon the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Dr. Ewart Thomas, professor of psychology and the chair of the ROTC committee, stated, “I think it’s fair to say that the [committee] believes that there is little chance of ROTC returning if DADT is not repealed…. If DADT is repealed then we have a horserace, so to speak, and I can see a Senate vote going either way,” Thomas said.

The awarding of academic credit will play a large role in the Senate’s decision making process. According to Thomas, the committee agreed that if ROTC returns, the academic programs “should be in accordance with the depth of Stanford’s intellectual mission. It is to be hoped that such programs would improve the quality of civic education of our students and faculty.”

President Hennessy weighed in, “Our faculty is responsible for course content and would need to review and approve the necessary curriculum changes.”

In the situation that DADT does face repeal, President Hennessy remarked regarding ROTC’s return: “My sense is that many faculty are open to the possibility under the right circumstances.”

However, Hennessy brought up another possible dilemma facing both the University and the Armed Forces: money. “To recreate Stanford-based ROTC programs will require time, money, and resources,” Hennessy said.

President Hennessy also pointed to an article by James Fallows that emphasizes the resources the military would have to commit to a reimplementation of the program at Stanford. Naturally, hosting programs at multiple universities in one region would necessitate higher operational costs than hosting each branch’s program at one university in the region.

As of now, Stanford students must travel to neighboring universities to participate in an ROTC program. This naturally makes participation in the program even more difficult. ROTC participant Jimmy Ruck stated, “The commute alone precludes many from even attempting to join the program.”

Stanford’s perception of the military has seemingly changed since the Vietnam War era. When asked about Stanford’s relationship with the military, Hennessy emphasized that it is “driven largely by the interests and desires of our faculty.”

“Many faculty do research supported by the Department of Defense,” Hennessy said, pointing specifically to Stanford Racing Team’s robotic cars, Stanley and Junior, that have been raced in events sponsored by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

According to Ruck, “When ROTC is explained to them, the majority of the people I hear from or interact with think it’s a good program to have on campus.”

But there likely remains opposition to ROTC on Stanford’s campus. Stanford Says No to War has not yet released an official position on ROTC, but a past member, Daniel Mathews, articulated his personal opinion in a blog post: “If nothing else, we should remember the following: the abolition of ROTC from some university campuses, such as Stanford, was an awesome achievement, an advanced achievement….”

Hennessy, when asked how ROTC can make Stanford a better university responded, “I think that the more significant question for the faculty is whether Stanford can make an important contribution to the country and national defense by having Stanford students prepare for leadership positions in the armed forces.”

Ruck said, “It is the best leadership course offered in college…ROTC would also serve the dual purpose of educating some of the future leaders…and people of this country about the military in general.”

By spring, the true opinions of the faculty will come to the fore in deciding whether or not ROTC is a viable option for Stanford.

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