Within the debate over ROTC’s potential reinstatement on Stanford’s campus, one issue under consideration is whether the program’s courses would be worthy of academic credit. ROTC is a program of military leadership training that integrates both field exercises and classroom engagement.
When the Faculty Senate debated ROTC’s expulsion from campus during the Vietnam era, one criticism of the program was that it lacked academic rigor. Similarly, today critics offer that the classes are not taught by Stanford faculty members, and therefore, that the University would lack control over the quality of the coursework. Others argue that ROTC’s courses would lack intellectual value. And still others argue that the courses are meant only as occupational preparation and that such a vocational class experience would not be in the spirit of a liberal arts education.
The argument against non-faculty members teaching at Stanford is simply uninformed; people without Stanford faculty positions currently teach and have taught many for-credit courses. Joe Lonsdale ’03, founder of Palantir and a respected entrepreneur, co-teaches CEE 127E: Infrastructure, Disruptive Technologies and Entrepreneurship, a speaker series style class that brings in other entrepreneurs. And health professionals from Vaden will teach Athletic 1, the fraternity preparation class during spring quarter. The University has deemed these non-faculty professionals worthy of shaping student minds, and consequently offers students credit for learning from them.
While the objection based on intellectual value seems legitimate at first glance, it too ignores Stanford’s current standards for course credit. The popular Student-Initiated Courses program has brought us classes on topics including Harry Potter, cars, and Magic cards. Most would agree that topics like these are non-intellectual, yet students do receive one or two units of credit for taking these courses about them. And even athletic and activity courses—everything from Abs & Glutes to Social Dance—earn students some course credit, despite their obvious lack of “intellectual” content.
Finally—and most importantly—to argue that Stanford should not provide its students with occupation-specific training is to ignore a core initiative of Stanford, an institution that views itself as a producer of leaders in forward-looking fields. According to the University, the Stanford Challenge is a fundraising initiative aimed at providing resources so that Stanford can “make groundbreaking advances in human health, environmental sustainability and international peace and security” and continue “educating leaders.”
President Hennessy has said, “Our goal for The Stanford Challenge is nothing short of building a university for the 21st century and beyond: A university that will better serve the world through the quality, impact, and vision of its research, and through the new generation of leaders it will produce.”
For Stanford, the university of the 21st century is one that is increasingly oriented towards tackling the practical issues that confront our society. Departments such as Mechanical Science and Engineering and Computer Science are clearly vocationally oriented, and many Biology and Human Biology courses are clearly intended to prepare students to practice medicine. Furthermore, even the social sciences departments, which are surprisingly quantitative at Stanford, are more oriented towards application than other schools’ departments.
President Hennessy has offered that cultivating leadership is necessary if Stanford is truly invested in having major impact on the issues that will confront the world in the future. And the fact is that the ROTC classes would provide leadership training that is applicable in many fields. The issues the world will face moving forward will span a variety of fields, so to most aptly prepare Stanford’s students to tackle them, Stanford is correct to offer some specialized training to future leaders.
Our engineers, computer programmers, entrepreneurs, economists, political scientists, and psychologists are being trained as leaders for their future careers every day at Stanford. The University pitches them to alumni, institutions, and the world every chance it has. Undoubtedly, it should be proud to acknowledge that it has been formative in the development of those serving as leaders within the armed forces. It should be eager to embrace those alumni soldiers and officers who walk away with great leadership skills in addition to full Stanford degrees in various disciplines.
Are the ROTC courses that would prepare some of our students with even more leadership training truly not worthy of academic credit? Do we want to recognize Stanford’s role in preparing some of the nation’s and world’s great future leaders but not all of them? Why are courses that produce military leaders different from the others? The reality is that they should be no different at all. For decades now, this university has played politics with the education and futures of its students, but it is now time for that game to come to an end.