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Defending ROTC at Columbia

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

As the Washington Post reported this week, the number of college students across the country participating in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps has increased by 50 percent since the 2005–06 school year, with 36,474 students enrolled in the program this past school year. Indeed, during the 2011–12 school year, “the Army commissioned 5,880 officers and reservists, surpassing its goal of 5,350. That number is expected to increase in coming years as large incoming classes mature.”

There are many reasons for the increased enrollment—schools welcoming back ROTC after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, increased scholarship opportunities, changed campus cultures, for example—but one reason many ROTC cadets give is simply that they want to serve:

“ ‘Serve’ is a word that kept coming up,” said [Col. David W. Chase], who spent more than 20 years in the Army and has been at Virginia Tech since 2010. “This generation we are getting in here is so patriotic. . . . They were 6, 7 years old on 9/11, and they have grown up during the war on terror. They’ve seen the unbelievable support for service members.”

But not all campuses have been equally welcoming to ROTC. At Columbia University, where the Navy ROTC program was recently reinstated, a recent student op-ed in the campus newspaper argued against the ROTC program, saying that it does not live up to the principles the University espouses. Responding in the same paper, Kyle Perrotti, a first year at Columbia’s School of General Studies and a member of the Navy from 2006 until 2012, provides a good defense of ROTC—and one that is applicable beyond Columbia’s circumstances. He writes:

A perfect example of this cultural flaw is seen right here on Columbia’s campus. Instead of focusing on solutions, most faculty and students at Columbia are acutely aware of the many faults in the military action of our country within the last decade and the resulting consequences. The irony here is that a perfect opportunity to make a difference lies right at the feet of our institution, yet we are too busy focusing on the problem ahead to notice our golden opportunity: the recently reinstated NROTC program. This program gives our school the opportunity to train new naval officers in the sound principles that this school projects into society through the realms of business and politics—principles of social responsibility, intellectual thinking, and problem-solving on a large or small scale. Accepting the ROTC program’s presence on campus is the only way that we are going to be able to move on and make a difference in the quality of our military leaders, and therefore become a part of the solution.


I am always surprised to see a school that prides itself on embracing diversity in the classroom acting so apprehensively toward a group that can add a new element to our learning environment. This trepidation has been made clear by many of the students and faculty I have spoken with […] It is important to keep in mind that these individuals volunteer to fight the wars that are cooked up by politicians and corporate leaders. Their willingness to step up and wear the uniform should be seen as being most honorable in the eyes of those who are spared the toils of service, courtesy of their willingness to risk their lives. If Columbia is able to put socially responsible officers into the Navy, the potential exists for military and civilian lives to be spared.

Read Perrotti’s whole defense here.