Our Statement Against the Return of ROTC to Columbia University

Posted: February 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

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.

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