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The Petition:

After the recent repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy that discriminated against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals in the military, Columbia University reintroduced the question of whether ROTC should be allowed back on campus. Literally a day after the repeal, the Student Affairs Committee of the University Senate announced that it would be forming a Task Force to oversee this discussion in the Spring 2011 semester. Despite the Task-force’s claim that its “top priority is that the student voice is heard. Thus, this will be a student-driven, not a faculty-dominated process,” the process in which this decision is being made has been unacceptably undemocratic. Apart from soliciting opinions from a minority of students on campus, the university has barely provided enough information or time for the campus to seriously discuss and reflect on what the re-introduction of ROTC on campus will mean for the Columbia community.

We, the undersigned, demand that:

1) The Columbia University Administration and the University Senate fully disclose facts and details related to the effects of bringing ROTC with regards to off-campus recruitment.

2) All students and faculty at Columbia University be considered to gauge the opinions of the campus community, not solely students in CC, BC, SEAS, GS, or SIPA.

3) The opinions of all alumni, not just wealthy potential donors, be considered if at all by the Senate.

4) There be full disclosure of any negotiations that may have already occurred between the military and Columbia administration regarding ROTC.

5) The Columbia University Administration and the  University Senate postpone the decision on whether ROTC should be  allowed back on campus until the 2011-2012 academic year. This will the  Columbia Community sufficient time to adequately discuss and debate  whether ROTC should be allowed back on campus.

Please include your school affiliation under the “comment” section.

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The Coalition Opposed to ROTC is deeply dismayed to learn of the Senate resolution calling for the return of ROTC to Columbia, which was circulated in campus media on Monday, March 21st. Here, we challenge the primary assumptions used to justify this resolution.

1. Whereas the Yellow Ribbon program gives veterans opportunities to study at Columbia
Yes, and this is incredibly valuable. Yet having veterans study in class, as students, is completely different than having military officers trained on campus, where Columbia will allow Armed Forces personnel to equip uniformed students with the relevant skills necessary to lead military units– be this in weapons usage, counterinsurgency tactics, physical prowess, or other forms of training that are markedly different than the classes those who participate in the Yellow Ribbon program attend.

2. Whereas Columbia’s military engagement has been commended by the military
Since when has wining plaudits from the military become something a university should be proud of? But more importantly, “military engagement” as it already exists on campus, with current and former members of the military studying in large numbers at Columbia, is completely separate from ROTC. Such students are valuable members of the Columbia community, but ROTC represents a radically different type of relationship, and embracing of the military as an institution (and not as diverse individuals associated with it).

3. Whereas the Task Force discovered broad support on campus for increased military engagement in 2005
As mentioned above, the overarching phrase “military engagement” does not equate to support for ROTC. To engage with the military can mean anything from organizing classes, seminars, or lectures on the military, to expanding support for the G.I. Bill. Each instantiation of this engagement must be considered in its specificity. Moreover, it is disturbing that the resolution ignores the outcomes of the discussions on campus in 2008, when strong opposition to ROTC was recorded across campus, partly, but certainly not exclusively due to DADT.

4. Whereas there is an off-campus ROTC program
Yes, there is. In fact, the Solomon Amendment prevents Columbia from obstructing participation in ROTC or military recruitment on campus, under threat of the withdrawal of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, so this is a non-issue. Moreover, for individuals to support an off-campus ROTC program is essentially to think that everyone should have the right to choose what to do with their lives – just as many students pursue jobs, internships and other courses off campus. It is the militarization through ROTC of Columbia, our campus and our community, that we oppose.

5. Whereas DADT was repealed
Yes, it was. The previous existence of DADT is not the reason for our opposition to ROTC. Discrimination (including against transgender individuals), sexual violence, obedience to authority, and the harsh disciplining of those who speak out still characterizes the military. The military, the defensive apparatus of the state, will never be an ideal employer, no matter what changes its internal policy undergoes. A more egalitarian military will not change its fundamental role in asserting American power abroad by force and violence.

6. Whereas Obama, a Columbia alumnus, called on college campuses to embrace military recruitment and ROTC
If every famous Columbia alumnus had some say over Columbia’s decisions, university governance would be in absolute disarray. If the President of this country is a guide for our decisions, this sets a dangerous precedent for the autonomy of academic institutions. And when it comes to the military alone, Obama has seen the expansion of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the escalation of indiscriminate drone attacks in Pakistan, the recent bombardment of Libya, and the incarceration and likely torture of military whistleblower Bradley Manning, among many other things. Surely the White House is not the source of inspiration for Columbia’s policy.

7. Whereas the Tien Special Committee in 1976 decided that the Senate will make decisions relevant to military engagement
This point is indeed entirely accurate. We will wait and see what happens when this goes to vote in the larger Senate body on April 1st. However, it is clear this push is *not* coming from the elected Senate as a whole but a very specific group of people with a clearly biased interest in pushing this decision through as quickly as possible.

8. Whereas the Task Force “has conducted a broad and representative process” showing widespread support for expanding Columbia’s ties with the military and ROTC
This final point amounts to the most egregious statement in the entire resolution put forth by the Executive Committee. Multiple faculty and students, whether proponents of, opponents to, or indifferent over ROTC, have pointed out the numerous procedural flaws in the Task Force process. Not once was information disseminated with regards to the details of what ROTC would mean. It is still not clear how the University expects to maintain the right to control curriculum, faculty appointment, and the provision of space for ROTC training, when this was the precise reason for ROTC leaving Columbia in the first place. It is still not clear whether ROTC will bring increased military recruiters to campus or to the Harlem community. It is still not clear what the details of financial aid will be for students who enroll in the program, what their commitment to service upon graduation will consist of, and what the consequences might be for a student who chooses to drop out part-way. Not once was the military publicly consulted to see whether they would even want to return to Columbia, and if so under what conditions. No one has explained why the urgency and rapid pace with which this decision is moving forward. The public hearings conducted provided no space for discussion, dialogue, or debate, and Task Force members individually refused to answer questions posed to them afterwords. The opening speech of Dean Moody-Adams at the second hearing blatantly advocated for the return of ROTC, and members of the Task Force have previous histories of taking explicit positions in support of ROTC, yet the Task Force purported to maintain some pretense of neutrality. No one was told how the hearings would be weighed in terms of the final report, and those of us who attended each session in fact recorded a small majority of speakers at each hearing voice opposition to ROTC.

As for numbers, the poll conducted by the Task Force was open to less than half of Columbia’s schools, excluding over 50% of the student population (approx. 26,400) including all non-professional Graduate Students, as well as Columbia’s approximately 3,600 faculty members (not to mention 11,000 staff). Out of the 44% of students who were even eligible (11,629), 19% participated (2,252), and 60% (1,351) recorded support for ROTC’s return to campus. This amounts to approximately 5% of Columbia students supporting ROTC’s return. It is as outrageous for the resolution to refer to this proportion as “widespread support” as to claim that the Task Force conducted a “broad and representative process”.

9. Be it Resolved that Columbia constructively engage the military and educate future military leaders
The first conclusion of this resolution simply acknowledges that Columbia currently engages the military in some capacity (and educating American citizens implies educating future military and political leaders both). As noted above, constructive engagement does not necessitate the return of ROTC. In fact, as we have argued, any desire to uphold the integrity of Columbia’s education and the principles of teaching, critical debate, and committed research that characterize this institution must preclude such a partnership.

10. Be it further resolved that Columbia welcomes the opportunity to explore further mutually beneficial relationships with the military, including ROTC
We are greatly concerned that this resolution not only welcomes ROTC back, but attempts to set a precedent for the further entrenchment of the U.S. military at Columbia. It is not incidental that this call is being made at a time when America is engaged in two highly unpopular, deeply violent and costly wars. Columbia should certainly continue an open conversation about what forms of relationship with the military are most beneficial to its values. However, this process must be one that is truly accessible and inclusive, something the recent work of the Task Force was not. Moreover, for whom exactly is this relationship ‘mutually beneficial’? Economically underprivileged students, who rather than accessing unconditional financial aid must sign an advanced contract and be willing to risk both their own lives and the lives of others in order to access a premier education? American students who want to participate in ROTC, and will now be saved a short commute across the city in exchange for what will necessitate a significant restructuring of standard Columbia curriculum, hiring practices, and the use of campus space? International students, many of whom have intimate experiences of or connections to the destruction wrought by the U.S. military around the world in the past century, and others who are grateful to have left countries where the violence of military rule permeates day-to-day life? We are left to wonder.

11. Be it further resolved that Provost will maintain control over questions of academic credit, appointment, governance, etc. and nothing will contravene the University’s current policies
In fact, the U.S. law that governs the ROTC program, most recently updated in February, 2010 states otherwise. In the general military law, part 3, chapter 103, which is the ROTC portion, under section 2012 on establishment of ROTC programs, Part B reads: “No unit may be established or maintained at an institution unless (1) the senior commissioned officer of the armed force concerned who is assigned to the program at that institution is given the academic rank of professor. (2) The institution fulfills the terms of its agreement with the secretary of the military department concerned, and (3) the institution adopts as part of its curriculum a four-year course in military instruction or a two-year course of advanced training of military instruction or both, which the secretary of the military department concerned prescribes and conducts” [1]. If this is the case and Columbia invites ROTC to its campus, the university must adhere to these laws should ROTC decide to enforce them.

12. Be it further resolved that any further relationships with the Army will be subject to periodic review
There is no doubt that such periodic review is important. However, we categorically and unequivocally reject this entire resolution, both flawed and politically biased as it is, and will continue to voice our opposition to the reintroduction of ROTC at Columbia as this highly undemocratic process unfolds before us.

[1].  10 U.S.C. § 2102 : US Code – Section 2102: Establishment

To read the Senate resolution:

Next month, the University Senate intends to vote on whether to allow the Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) back on Columbia’s campus because of the recent repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’.

The Coalition to Oppose ROTC is against the reintroduction of ROTC to Columbia’s campus for the following reasons:

  • The recent repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ does not guarantee equal treatment of service members who identify as gay or lesbian. Moreover, the military, even with the repeal, continues to discriminate against those identifying as transgender. In addition, violence against women in the military is widespread. CBS recently reported that 1/3 of women in the military experience sexual assault while serving, and in 2006, only 292 of 2,974 cases resulted in a military trial.
  • ROTC is an arm of the US military, an institution authorized to use lethal force in order to maximize geopolitical and ideological domination around the world. It is argued that Columbia should play a role in “educating better leaders” for the military. However, the military is an institution that is part of a pervasive system that does not change policy merely to reflect the views of the individuals within it.
  • The coalition does not oppose the right of any individual to join the military. We oppose Columbia University providing academic credit for military training which contradict the values intrinsic to a liberal arts education, such as a commitment to open inquiry. Columbia University students have the option of taking ROTC courses at Fordham University and Manhattan College should they choose to and are eligible for ROTC scholarships. Therefore, there is no need to endorse a military institution by reinstating the program on campus.
  • ROTC is presented as an “opportunity” for low-income students to attend an Ivy League institution. Effectively, low-income students are coerced into military service for an education, while – ironically – billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on wars. Columbia’s need-based financial aid program should better address income inequality and service ways to improve low-income access to the University.
  • ROTC courses are not academically rigorous and do not meet the standards set by Columbia in its mission statement, which states that it “expects all areas of the university to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level.” According to a 2008 “Military Science” syllabus, topics that were included in the classroom were “Ambush/Squad Attack,” “Knock out a Bunker/Map Reading” and the semester’s only required written assignment asked students to “Write a one page typed paper of your thoughts about the semester”[1]. If Columbia University believes otherwise, it should indicate in detail how ROTC courses would meet their standards, which it has yet to provide.

While there have been reports of “heckling” of war veterans by tabloid-style news sources like the New York Post and Fox News, these sources have not been critical of the harassment that anti-ROTC coalition members are subjected to. This harassment has ranged from childish acts like throwing snowballs at the anti-ROTC table on College Walk to filming outreach efforts without consent and approaching coalition members in an aggressive, intimidating manner.

In 1969, the University Council passed a resolution preventing military training courses from being counted for academic credit, disallowing military instructors from holding academic rank, and prohibiting ROTC from using Columbia’s facilities for military training. The current state of affairs is shockingly similar to that of 1968/69: the US is engaged in multiple unpopular, economically draining wars of occupation. Therefore, the recent repeal of DADT does nothing to address the reasons for the University Council’s initial rejection of ROTC; hence, its repeal does not provide grounds for reinstating ROTC.

The Coalition to Oppose ROTC believes that upholding the distinction between military training and academic coursework established by the University Council is vital. While the Senate Task Force on ROTC has failed to address these concerns, we believe they are essential in ensuring a truly democratic process.