<< The Body Politic

Why isn’t ROTC on more elite campuses?

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

By Gary Schmitt and Cheryl Miller

In yesterday’s New York Times, University of Florida law professor and former Air Force officer Diane Mazur seeks to explode the “myth” that Ivy League universities have banned Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs from their campuses. This myth, she argues, is a convenient “fiction” that “lets the military (and to some extent, the universities) off the hook when it comes to the growing distance between civil and military America.”

Mazur has an important point. As we have argued elsewhere (“The Military Should Mirror the Nation”), the military has virtually abandoned large segments of the country—particularly in the Northeast and urban areas—narrowing, to its own detriment, the demographic and talent pool from which it draws its officers and recruits.

However, in her haste to hold the military accountable, Mazur goes too easy on elite schools and their faculties. Her main argument is that if there were a ban against ROTC at Ivy schools, the military would have already punished the offenders under the Solomon Amendment, which allows the government to deny federal funding to universities if they bar either ROTC or military recruiters from campus. This is simply not persuasive. First, the military has made clear that it would preferfor a variety of reasons, to wait to be invited back to campuses rather than strong-arming ROTC’s presence via Solomon. Second, university presidents certainly understand the current situation as a ban against on-campus ROTC. Harvard University President Drew G. Faust, for instance, has repeatedly stated that ROTC is officially unwelcome on campus so long as “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) remains policy. Columbia University’s Lee Bollinger has made similar statements.

Mazur mentions none of this. Instead, she summarizes ROTC’s retreat from the Ivies thus:

This shift stems from a disagreement in the late 1960s between the Ivy League colleges and the military. Should R.O.T.C. have to comply with the host college’s rules for academic course content and professor qualifications? R.O.T.C. said no, colleges said yes, and the two had to agree to disagree. R.O.T.C. then walked away from Northeastern campuses.

This is a highly selective treatment of the history, to say the least. From Mazur’s description, one would think that the debate over ROTC’s role on campus was a purely apolitical argument over academic standards. In reality, this argument occurred in the context (and largely as a consequence) of student demonstrations and strikes held in opposition to ROTC, the vandalism and destruction of ROTC buildings, and virulent antimilitary sentiment among both students and faculty.

Fortunately, this resistance to ROTC at elite institutions has eased in recent years. As both Faust and Bollinger note, students at schools without on-campus ROTC can—and do—participate in ROTC through cross-enrollment programs at other participating schools. Yet this participation often requires a special commitment on the student’s part, including long commutes and out-of-pocket transportation costs and cross-enrollment fees. That students persevere in the face of these odds and opposition from their universities is a credit solely to them—not their universities.

Moreover, debates over course credit and academic titles are not insurmountable—as the experience of Cornell, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and MIT all suggest. Each of these schools has managed to accommodate the ROTC program’s various requirements and needs while maintaining faculty independence and control over the curricula. At Princeton, ROTC is treated as an extracurricular program, while MIT designates ROTC faculty as visiting professors and confers credit only for certain departmentally approved courses. Clearly, a variety of arrangements are possible.

Finally, we would also note that Mazur is not a dispassionate observer. As her byline indicates, she is the legal co-director of the Palm Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara, a think tank dedicated to repealing DADT.

Gary Schmitt is director of AEI’s Program on American Citizenship, and Cheryl Miller is its program manager.

Cross-posted on the Enterprise blog.