The Polarization of the ROTC Debate

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Pro-ROTC students launched a campus-wide campaign on Thursday morning. (Stanford Review)
After a week of campaigning, it is apparent that the ROTC debate is highly polarized. On both sides there are small and passionate groups, pushing their agenda relentlessly.

The rest of the student population seems to be relatively apathetic and it is hard to say how the average Stanford Joe and Jill feel about the potential return of ROTC to the Farm.

The pro-ROTC folks have pushed hard this week, with a strong presence in White Plaza and all around campus. They’ve argued that a union between Stanford and the military would allow Stanford to have a progressive impact on the military and give Stanford the opportunity to groom the military leaders of the future.

On the other side, a coalition of anti-ROTC groups, including SSQL and Stanford Says No to War, have pushed the “Campaign to Abstain.” They suggested that students abstain from voting on the ROTC referendum because it violates the civil rights of the student groups involved.

John Haskell ’12, the ASSU Chief of Staff, led the Campaign to Abstain and published an Op-ed in the Stanford Daily on Wednesday explaining the decision.

As ASSU Chief of Staff, I am leading the Vote Abstain campaign because I believe it is important that as a Stanford community, we can do a better job, create a better forum and allow for a better outlet for those most affected by the ensuing decision to be made by those administrators charged with listening to student input. Let us stand together in voting abstain so that we do not trivialize the small groups of people, whether they be pro or anti ROTC, into one singular vote but rather afford them an equally powerful voice within the appropriate forums. Let us as a student body not be wrapped up in a statistic or reduced to a number in a poll, but bring the diverse complex opinions we have to the Faculty Senate and give that legitimate voice.

Haskell argues that the communities affected by the ROTC vote should have a say in the matter that is representative of their stake in the decision. He argues that student opinion could be better conveyed to the Faculty Senate through forums and discussion.

And while I agree with John’s suggestion that the complexity of the issue is oversimplified by a simple vote, I think that he is missing the point of the referendum.

The Faculty Senate knows that the LGBT community opposes the return of ROTC and they also know that many military affiliated Stanford students are highly supportive of it. What they don’t know, as of know, is how everyone else feels. The ballot referendum is not a consequential vote- no policy will be determined by its tally. It is merely an opportunity to gauge how the general student body feels about the issue. Haskell is worried that the Faculty Senate will use the vote results to justify their decision and ultimately trivialize the opinions of students. I counter that the results of the advisory vote will act as a public opinion poll. Will the numbers be a perfect reflection of student sentiment? Of course not. But they will reveal how the dispassionate members of the student body feel about a debate that has been dominated by extreme constituents.

I think that the ROTC question is an important issue and I agree with antiwar activist David Harris ’67, who said on Wednesday about the debate, “In terms of massive practical impact, it doesn’t have one, but what Stanford does about it will be a tremendous statement.”

The advisory vote was a chance for students to express their opinion on an important issue related to their school. I hope that you did not abstain and I hope that the Faculty Senate will consider your opinion when they deliberate the merits of ROTC’s return to Stanford.

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