Response to the Columbia Senate Resolution Calling for Return of ROTC

Posted: March 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

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:


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