<< The Body Politic

Do ask, do tell

Friday, January 7th, 2011

It’s disappointing that Princeton University remains unwilling to consider ROTC courses for academic credit, particularly after student calls for the university to reevaluate its relationship to ROTC pending the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Of course, Princeton’s faculty has its reasons for wanting to avoid a debate on the merits of ROTC courses. For starters, even university professors must recognize they will look more than a bit foolish while explaining how exactly such subjects as the oeuvre of The Boss (see SOC 205: Sociology From E Street: Bruce Springsteen’s America) are more academically rigorous and deserving of study than military history and ethics.

Second, such a debate would expose certain inconsistencies of policy. As I and my co-author Gary Schmitt noted in a recent editorial for The Weekly Standard, university faculty cannot object to ROTC as mere vocational training while providing credit for such pre-professional and vocational courses as teacher training. If learning how to manage a classroom is intellectually challenging enough to be worthy of credit at Princeton, why isn’t learning to manage a platoon?

Princeton deserves praise for allowing ROTC on campus while other elite schools barred the program. However, its admirable support for ROTC in the past does not mean that advocates should not press for more.

More importantly, more is at stake in the current debate than the accreditation of a few advanced-level ROTC courses at Princeton. The need to “protect” academic standards has emerged as the latest excuse for those who want to continue to ban or marginalize ROTC programs, but they are savvy enough to recognize that the strident anti-Americanism of ROTC opponents like Colman McCarthy, theTaliban’s not-so-secret admirer, hurts their cause.

As schools like Columbia, Stanford, and Yale open debate on renewing their ROTC programs, advocates should be prepared to defend the place of ROTC at the university. Moreover, they should demand that opponents who contest ROTC on academic grounds spell out their objections and either dispel (or confirm) the suspicion that what they really mean when they claim ROTC “violates” academic standards is that (in McCarthy’s words) ROTC “taint[s] the intellectual purity of a school, if by purity we mean trying to rise above the foul idea that nations can kill and destroy their way to peace”—they just don’t want to have to come out and say it.

Image by Quantockgoblin.

Cross-posted at the Weekly Standard.