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October 30, 2008 [feather]
More on ROTC

To its great credit, the Chronicle of Higher Education is running a story about ROTC today that offers a necessary antidote to all the faculty carping and administrative resistance we are seeing at schools like Columbia. There, students want to bring ROTC back, but dated politics and a distressing willingness to use students as political pawns are getting in the way. The time has come to bring ROTC back to campus, to recognize that the way to protest DADT is not to deprive students of the opportunity to serve and the scholarships that come with it, to respect students' rights to choose their own career path, and to welcome the healthy debate that will certainly arise if the military is no longer shoved off campus and rendered largely invisible.

But Columbia--and Harvard, and Yale, and Tufts, and the University of Chicago--are losing the opportunity to be leaders in this effort. And schools like the University of Maryland at Baltimore County are filling the gap:

With its forces stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is looking to significantly expand the number of Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs on college campuses for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which led the Army to close more than 80 programs. At UMBC and other colleges that have applied for a program, the effort is being celebrated by cadets but criticized by faculty members and students who oppose the military's exclusion of openly gay service members.

The Army's expansion effort stems from the Pentagon's request for the officer-training corps to produce 4,500 second lieutenants each year, a 15-percent increase over its annual quota four years ago. That target will rise to 5,350 in 2011. This year, ROTC produced 4,300 lieutenants, more than in 2007 but still short of its quota.

That shortfall has the training corps looking for ways to produce more lieutenants, including adding 15 to 20 campus units to the 273 it already runs, according to Paul N. Kotakis, an Army spokesman. Naval ROTC, which includes the Marine Corps, is also looking to expand and has identified several universities where it may add programs.

"We're all familiar with Hollywood's idea of the Army: Pearl Harbor gets bombed, you go to basic training, then the next week you're storming the beaches of Normandy," said Mr. Kotakis. "But ROTC is fundamentally predicated on a four-year college experience. Whenever the Army gets an increased mission like that, we can't turn the numbers around immediately."


The Army contacted Baltimore County in April about adding a program, and the university submitted its application in late May. It is awaiting the Army's response, but university officials are optimistic. They have already renovated and opened a Reserve Officers' Training Corps office in a house on the campus.

"We were told our institution looked ideal, thanks to the demographics, location, and what seemed like apparent interest from students," said Mark Terranova, assistant to the university's president. "On our end, we want to make things easier on students who want to pursue ROTC."

For now, Baltimore County is one of 1,260 "satellite" ROTC campuses scattered across the country, whose students commute to other campuses for training. Its cadets gather every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. for "lab train ing" in a two-story building squeezed between the football and lacrosse fields on the Johns Hopkins campus. In a room resembling a high-school gymnasium, students from Baltimore County, Stevenson University, and several other area institutions line up, then march past a 37-foot-tall rappelling wall adorned with "ARMY" in giant yellow letters to a small field for training exercises. Today they are working on "individual movement and technique": high crawling, low crawling, and the "buddy fire team."

In civilian terms? "They're learning to work in a team," says Mr. Ashby, a senior political-science major at Baltimore County and the battalion's commander.

For the Johns Hopkins cadets, the end of training means a short walk to a dining hall or home for dinner. For the Baltimore County cadets, it means up to an hourlong trip through rush-hour traffic, just one problem they face without an on-campus program.

"It hits you once on the way over here when ... you have to plan your car ride and pay for gas, and then it hits you again when you have to feed the meter for the four hours you're here," says Dan Ingram, a senior cadet at Baltimore County. "The money adds up when you realize you've spent 50 bucks on parking."

Cadets at UMBC and the other satellite campuses face other challenges, too. Many take extra credit hours because their ROTC credits don't count toward graduation. They have to schedule classes around travel time, and many say they miss out on activities at their home campus. At a 2007 White House commissioning ceremony for graduating cadets, President Bush bemoaned the "split existence" of ROTC cadets who live on separate campuses.

Such hassles are one reason Baltimore County and other institutions are seeking programs of their own. Not only will current cadets benefit, but administrators believe the greater convenience might encourage more students to participate, and thus qualify for the Army's merit-based scholarships. An on-campus program could also help recruitment.

"Having a program on campus puts us in a more attractive, more appealing light," said Yvette Mozie-Ross, assistant provost for enrollment management at Baltimore County. "The ROTC table is always crowded at our open houses, but it's always awkward trying to explain these partnerships to prospective students. It would be nice to be able to say we have a program on campus."

But colleges have costs to consider as well. Although contracts differ from college to college, agreements between the Army and host colleges specify arrangements for who will pay for a variety of items, including faculty and buildings, Internet access, parking permits, and gym passes. Towson University, another Baltimore-area institution, was being considered for a host site but pulled its application because it could not provide the administrative personnel requested by the Army.


Baltimore County is not alone in facing [the DADT] issue. After John McCain and Barack Obama called for an end to bans on the officer-training corps at a panel at Columbia University last month, Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia's president, expressed his continued opposition to ROTC based on the military's policy toward gay service members.

On the heels of that panel, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni sent a letter to Columbia and six other institutions urging them to lift their bans. Columbia is one of four Ivy League schools that do not allow ROTC, though students can ride the subway to an Army ROTC program at Fordham University.

The Columbia University Senate voted down a proposal to allow Army ROTC in 2005, but it may consider a Naval ROTC program. A survey to gauge student opinion on the issue is planned for next month.

Colleges with programs have found different ways to address the conflict between "don't ask, don't tell" and their own antidiscrimination policies. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology promises to replace any scholarships a ROTC student loses due to the policy, while the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says its nondiscrimination policy does not apply to its relationship with outside organizations such as ROTC.

At Baltimore County, President Freeman A. Hrabowski III says he wants to hold student forums and find ways to deal with concerns over the policy, rather than simply rejecting it. He has told opponents of ROTC that he will include a statement in the university's ROTC agreement expressing the school's opposition to "don't ask, don't tell."

"One thing we asked ourselves was, 'Do we have a public responsibility to provide these opportunities?'" said Mr. Terranova. "Ultimately it came down to, 'Let's not deny opportunities for students while we fight for this greater issue of diversity.'"

It is possible that the problem could solve itself: Mr. Obama has said he would repeal the statute if he were elected president (Mr. McCain supports the policy), and a bill was introduced last year in the U.S. House of Representatives to do just that. But for now the two sides remain at loggerheads, though both express empathy for the opposition.

"It's not that we don't want the cadets on campus," said Ms. McCusker. "It's that we don't want 'don't ask, don't tell' on campus."

That's a vital distinction, and the schools that are at the forefront on this issue are going to be making it. Those that don't will lose their carefully cultivated image as progressive leaders. And, cynically, I suspect that when that image gets tarnished, some schools may decide that they think differently about the issue.

The other thing to note about this article is how it quietly lays to rest the argument schools such as Columbia use when challenged about ROTC. "We don't ban ROTC!" they claim; "Students are free to commute to another school and train there! We are totally supportive!" But the commute is a big deal--even when it's just cross-town. Yale and Stanford students have to go a lot further than cross-town; Yale cadets travel nearly 100 miles to train at UConn, and Stanford students have to get from Palo Alto to Berkeley and back again. Those are not minor commutes.

Reading between the lines here, it looks as though the army is figuring that commuting to another campus deters a great many students from enrolling in ROTC. UMBC only has 25 students doing ROTC at Hopkins. They'll need a lot more than that to maintain a sustainable program on campus. The army is clearly betting that it can raise those numbers simply by lowering the barrier to participation. If the army is right--and I suspect it is--then schools that compel students to travel elsewhere to train can no longer count on making the argument that they are being totally supportive of ROTC and totally responsive to student interest.

Columbia is not the only school where students are fighting an uphill battle to get the administration to re-open the ROTC issue. It's also happening at Harvard, Tufts, Chicago, and beyond.

posted on October 30, 2008 9:14 AM

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That's fine, but at the directional universities (West State U., etc.), which educate far more students than the elite universities, ROTC is not and never has been controversial.

Posted by: Michael at October 30, 2008 5:42 PM

The issue is not only ROTC at elite universities, but ROTC in the northeast and in urban areas in general. UMBC is a step in the right direction, but the issue remains a serious one. Take New York City for example:

* There are 594,000 university students in New York City, the highest number of any city in the United States.

* New York is the nation's largest importer of college students, according to statistics which show that among freshmen who leave their home states to attend college, more come to New York than any other state, including California. Enrollment is led by New York City, which is home to more college students than any other city in the United States, even Boston.2

* With over 8 million residents, New York City has a greater population than either the state of Virginia or North Carolina. While both Virginia and North Carolina maintain twelve Army ROTC programs each, however, New York City hosts only two.

* Both ROTC Programs are located a significant distance away from the areas most concentrated in colleges and universities, as evidenced by this map.

* The City University of New York is the third largest public university system in the nation, though all of its campuses are located within a single city. It provides post-secondary higher education in all five boroughs of New York.

* The City University of New York system, with more than 450,000 students, confers nearly 3 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded to African-Americans in the United States. Former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell is a CUNY ROTC product. Yet today there is no longer an ROTC presence to be found anywhere in the CUNY system.

* Neither is there an ROTC presence in Brooklyn, home to a diverse population about the size of Mississippi, which has five Army ROTC units despite a much lower per capita college attendance. In 2005, two of the top five ZIP codes for Army enlistments were in Brooklyn, yet there are no commissioning opportunities in the borough. Could one imagine no ROTC programs for the population of Mississippi?

* New York City also has a vast array of private universities, including Columbia University, a prestigious Ivy League university and the fifth oldest educational institution in the nation, and New York University, the largest private, non-profit university in the United States. Yet neither university graduates more than a handful of military officers per year.

* The allocation of ROTC recruiting assets in urban areas is insufficient to serve the large population assigned. Three recruiting officers are expected to canvass the more than 100 colleges and 13 million people in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. Compare this with the 10 recruiters assigned for 4.5 million Alabamans or five for 2.5 million Mississippians.

* The scarcity of commissioning opportunities in New York City hurts our community and the military. Moreover, in light of September 11th, we have a distinctly personal stake in the Global War on Terror. New Yorkers should be afforded every opportunity to serve as military leaders, and to be granted the responsibility for defending our city and our nation.

If the United States Military wants to dedicate itself to recruiting more minority officers, it could begin by allocating more resources to the urban Northeast in the same proportion it does the South.

Posted by: slw at October 30, 2008 9:24 PM