ROTC’s Fate Rests with Many

In the ROTC debate on campus, one might come away with the impression that a Faculty Senate vote in favor of ROTC would result in ROTC returning to campus. However, that view ignores the immense role of the military in determining the fate of ROTC at Stanford. Therefore, a complete assessment of the feasibility of ROTC’s return must include a consideration of all relevant issues from both the University and military perspective.

The debate on campus today focuses particularly on the academic aspects of the program, which has been a critical issue for some time now. In the early 1970s, the Faculty Senate voted to ban ROTC programs from campus due in part to the lack of academic control the university had over the classes.

Today, Army ROTC participants travel to Santa Clara University to take classes and participate in training exercises. All cadets must take a total of 35 academic units, mainly focusing on military leadership, in order to graduate from the program.

The military requires all ROTC cadets across the country to take the same courses. Freshmen and sophomore students take the basic requirements, six courses geared at teaching military leadership skills.  If students begin ROTC participation later in their college career, then they can make up the basic requirements with a summer long camp in Fort Knox, Tennessee.

Stanford students can take these basic requirements at Stanford now, but for the advanced courses and additional training they must travel to Santa Clara University.

While students from San Jose State can in fact minor in military science, students at Santa Clara University can only receive elective credit for their ROTC courses, while Stanford students receive no credit. Nevertheless, five Stanford students have made the commitment to travel to Santa Clara University for class twice a week.

The Stanford contingent makes up a small part of the Santa Clara ROTC program of 94 cadets. Professor of Military Science Lt. Col. Tao leads the program, and has four other program officers helping him teach the assortment of 13 classes that make up the basic and advanced course requirements.

Tao described the process through which he went to be selected as a professor of military science. Nearly 400 majors and lieutenant colonels express their desire to be professors of military science and then their records are reviewed by a military board. Tao said, “Once we’re selected [by the board], they send our name to the school, for acceptance, and Santa Clara will look at my undergraduate and my graduate [records] as well.”

The other officers teaching classes in the program go through the same selection process and the same vetting by Santa Clara University.

The Army isn’t just interested in training their cadets for military leadership, though. It also stresses the traditional majors that the cadets receive from their respective schools. Specifically, the Army wants more majors in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Tao explained, “Predominantly right now, our cadets are in criminal justice. That’s a very popular major for some reason in the ROTC program, and it’s not because we’re asking…When you look at the overall cadet population, quite a few of them, about 60% have criminal justice as their major.”

In Boston and its surrounding environs, the ROTC program spearheaded by Lt. Colonel Hall places significant emphasis on student involvement. The consortium that Harvard is a part of is based in MIT, and faces the same conditions that the one in Santa Clara does. MIT provides one administrative assistant and the physical space that the program needs to operate. Everything else is provided by the Army, which includes all the instructors and equipment required for the program.

While Lt. Col Hall would not provide the amount that Army ROTC required in Boston, the cost of the program in Santa Clara was a product of a number of factors. Lt. Col Tao pointed to the one and a half million dollars paid in salaries and the roughly two to three million dollar cost in equipment the army has to face simply as a start-up cost. After the initial investment, the Army still must pay a maintenance and replacement cost of around $500,000 per year.

The Army ROTC cadre at MIT demonstrates an enhanced commitment to serving satellite programs with even one student. Lt. Col Hall pointed to the fact that he is willing to send instructors on drives that average more than forty-five minutes as it saves students more than 70 study hours a year. The only consideration about including an affiliate in the ROTC network is whether there is an interested student, indicative of serious commitment to extending the reach of the program in the area.

One concern that Harvard students share with their Stanford counterparts is the lack of credit equivalency – classes taken at MIT for the ROTC program cannot transfer over to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The situation is different at MIT because students there have a requirement for eight hours of physical education, providing a convenient way to complete requirements while attending classes. This lack of credit acceptance stands in contrast to the approximately 94 percent of colleges nationwide that accept credit earned while participating in the ROTC program, a statistic provided by Lt. Col Hall.

ROTC in the Future

What might happen at Stanford if the Faculty Senate votes for ROTC’s return? At this point, the hypothetical depends largely on the Army itself. With budget cuts, engagement in two foreign conflicts, and a decent assortment of programs already in the Bay Area, the Pentagon’s interest in moving to Stanford might be more of a factor than Stanford’s own desire to see a full ROTC program back on campus.

Purely by numbers, the interest needed by Stanford students to warrant a full program would have to translate into approximate enrollments of 20 to 25 students per class, according to Lt. Col Tao. Because such numbers are unlikely to be achieved immediately, a full ROTC program would not likely return to campus too quickly as it wouldn’t be feasible for the military.

Referencing the current single-digit participation numbers at Stanford, Lt. Col. Tao pointed to the limitations of the program when he said that, “If I send a cadre to teach there, they’re really teaching two guys, two students, or three students, that’s not really smart. When the class is already here, is it easier for them to come here just to have the class.”

Stanford Army cadet Ann Thompson ’11 sees the necessary recruitment levels as attainable. She stated, “I know that many Stanford students are interested not only in bringing ROTC back to campus, but also in participating in the program.” She continued, “I have spoken to many Stanford students over the past four years who were genuinely interested in joining ROTC.”

But Tao also pointed out that “the Army right now is not planning on expanding.” Naturally, any new program or program expansion would rely heavily on the Pentagon’s willingness to budget for the program.

On October 7, Lt. Col. Tao shared his thoughts with the Faculty Senate committee currently reviewing ROTC. He suggested Stanford “could start up something small…where we can have recruiting on campus, so that we have a small footprint there.” He suggested that during “freshmen day or orientation, or some type of high-school senior orientation,” Army ROTC could have a “presence” so people can at least ask questions.

He has also considered sending a cadre to Stanford to meet with prospective cadets. “I’d like to see if we can recruit more students from Stanford,” Tao stated.

Before a full program can be established at Stanford, the University must also confront the issue of academic credit and faculty. Participant recruitment would likely suffer if students don’t receive credit for their 35 units of military leadership classes. Stanford would also have to decide whether or not it would grant faculty status to the Army ROTC instructors, who must be chosen and cleared by the military itself. At MIT, the only member of the cadre part of the faculty is Lt. Col. Hall. The rest of the staff is recognized as ‘Technical Instructors’.

Thompson realizes that a full program won’t move back onto campus overnight. She believes though that it could someday become a reality. “If ROTC were to return to Stanford, it would probably happen incrementally,” Thompson stated. “It would take several years and a reallocation of resources to build programs like the ones at Santa Clara, Berkeley, and San Jose State.”

But Thompson also points out the most important factor in the debate: “Both Stanford and the [Department of Defense] must first be on board.”  She stated, “Over time, though, I believe Stanford will be able to support battalions and a detachment of its own…the payoff will be enormous.”

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