<< The Body Politic

No more urban officers?

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Drawing on Cheryl Miller’s 2011 report “Underserved: A Case Study of ROTC in New York City,” Colin Daileda takes a look in The Atlantic at the hurdles ROTC cadets in the nation’s largest city must face to participate in the officer training program.

He writes:

New York City is home to nearly 600,000 students and 80 colleges. The city’s population of 8 million is equivalent to Virginia’s, yet the city has only four ROTC programs on college campuses, compared with Virginia’s 11.

Many New York schools severed their ties with the ROTC during the 1960s, when anti-war protests broke out across campuses in the Northeast. When the draft ended, the military slipped even further into the background, where it has remained ever since. In response, the Armed Forces have stopped making much of an effort to recruit in the area. Even City University of New York, the third-largest public university system in America and the one that commissioned General Colin Powell, no longer has an ROTC program.


Cheryl Miller, who wrote a report for the American Enterprise Institute entitled “Underserved: A Case Study of ROTC in New York City,” believes that the lack of ROTC host-campuses and poor transportation to the few campuses that do have programs is one of the main reasons so few officers come out of urban environments.

There is only one campus in the five boroughs–Manhattan College in the Bronx–that hosts Air Force ROTC. If, for example, a student from Queens College wants to commission as an Air Force officer upon graduation, he or she will have to travel more than three hours round-trip for classes. State University of New York Maritime at Throgg’s Neck in the Bronx hosts the city’s only Navy ROTC program. Columbia students, who used to have a naval ROTC program on campus, now have to travel 75 minutes to participate.


[At the same time,] says Miller, the disproportionate number of ROTC campuses in the South and West has created a military that doesn’t culturally represent the U.S. This seems to undercut the main mission of the ROTC program, which has its origins in the Morrill Act of 1862. The government, in the throes of the Civil War, was afraid of having a military taught and trained solely at specific Armed Forces institutions such as West Point or the Naval Academy. The Morrill Act established the new land-grant colleges and made military science a part of their curricula. The goal was to create a new generation of officers who had a civilian perspective–leading to a military from which no region of the country would feel alienated.

Today, the reduced number of ROTC host programs has contributed to a sense of distance between Northeast college students and their peers in the military. And it may alienate some of the best potential officers in the nation, particularly diverse candidates from urban areas.

“By overlooking institutions like CUNY–among the top producers of African-American baccalaureates–the military is not accessing minority officers fully reflective of the population,” Miller says in her study. “This absence might account, in part, for the lack of black officers in the top leadership ranks.” The Navy’s first black admiral, Vice Admiral Samuel Gravely Jr., graduated from Columbia. And of course, there was Powell, who took part in the City College ROTC and, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rose higher than any other graduate of the program.

For the cadets who do overcome the travel obstacles to participate in ROTC on a different campus, the experience isn’t the same as it is for the host students. Whereas students who participate in the program at their own campus form close ties with each other and experience a strong sense of camaraderie–“they go to class together, study together, drink together, drill together”–commuters are treated more like outsiders and tend to view ROTC more simply as a job-training program. Daileda notes that this “in turn leads to a shortage of urban-bred officers, which, combined with a lackluster effort by the military to recruit officers in the Northeast, has led to [the] dysfunctional and inaccessible city ROTC programs in this region.”

Read the rest of Daileda’s article here, and for more on ROTC and urban officers, check out Cheryl Miller’s “Underserved” report. And to see why it’s important that the military better reflect the nation’s population, read this op-ed by Gary Schmitt and Cheryl Miller: “The Military Should Mirror the Nation.”