Brown Wrestles with the English Language and Loses

Suppose you are the president of Brown University or a member of the Brown corporation and, for some reason that eludes most sentient adults, you want to maintain your ban on ROTC on campus. You are in a tough spot, since all the other Ivy League schools, President Obama, the national political establishment, and the general public have called for the Vietnam-era ban to be dropped.

Which of the following statements do you put out to defend your position:

  1. Sorry, we can’t do it; we have too many leftover Sixties radicals still on campus–check with us when they all retire.
  2. We could drop the ban, since the Vietnam War is over and the armed forces now accept gays, but they don’t accept transsexuals, and who wants to be defended by an army with no trannies?
  3. We endorse more ROTC opportunities for Brown students.

You guessed it! Brown picked 3. (with just a dash of 2.). It was a dual adventure by Ruth Simmons and the corporation in Orwellian prose that never mentioned the ban. First press release headline: “President Simmons Accepts Recommendations of ROTC Committee.” Second press release headline two days later: “Corporation Endorses More ROTC Opportunities.” The additional opportunities refer to the possibility of driving a couple of hours for new off-campus ROTC training at colleges that lack Brown’s on-campus ban.

One opportunity Brown missed: saying what it meant in plain English.

John Leo

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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