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Will Columbia be next?

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Columbia University’s Task Force on Military Engagement just released its full report on ROTC. As previously reported, the student survey went in favor of bringing ROTC back to campus: Sixty percent of students approved restoring the program. A quick look at some of the findings:

Not surprisingly, of the five academic programs surveyed, the School of General Studies (GS), with its large veteran population, is most in favor of ROTC with 71 percent voting yes. The advocacy of student veterans has been critical to the ROTC fight. Moreover, their very presence on campus has helped shift student (and even faculty) attitudes toward the military; as Peter Awn, the GS dean, told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “[T]he traditional students find [student veterans] really interesting. … I think this is good for Columbia undergraduate education. It adds something unique to the intellectual discourse in the classroom that we have not had for decades.”

For that reason, recent changes to the G.I. Bill – capping private tuition at $17,500 and lacking a grandfather clause for current students – are worrisome. The return of ROTC to elite campuses is crucial to bridging thegrowing divide between those in uniform and the wider society they have sworn to protect. But so too is the important but often ignored role student veterans play on campus.

The other strongly supportive program is Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science with 70 percent in favor. Given the military’s preference for technical majors, these students would likely benefit the most from a new ROTC program – particularly a Naval ROTC unit – and could constitute a prime recruiting pool for the armed forces. One can hope that their continued strong interest in ROTC might encourage the Navy to reinstate a program on campus if invited. At the moment, there’s no Navy commissioning opportunity for Columbia students – and for that matter, the majority of New York City college students.

Cross-posted at the Weekly Standard.