Tag Archives: ROTC

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.

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Brown Speaks with Forked Tongue on ROTC

We all know the story of Lucy and Charlie Brown–just as Charlie Brown is lining up to kick the football, Lucy pulls it away, and Charlie Brown tumbles down. And then Charlie Brown, ever gullible, falls for the same trick over and over again.

Reading Brown president Ruth Simmons’ recommendation that the university not permit ROTC to return to campus reminded me a bit of Lucy and the football. Brown, as her communiqué noted, phased out ROTC in 1969, and the program was gone from campus by 1972. Like other comparable anti-ROTC institutions (Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Stanford), Brown has allowed students to enroll in ROTC at a local campus (in Brown’s case, Providence College), but the campus newspaper reported in 2010 that “in recent years, only a handful have done so.”

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Columbia’s Ongoing Battle against ROTC

At Columbia, how is it that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” could inspire such heated debate among students? The average student opposing the return of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to Columbia University might be fairly described as a left-wing “radical,” while the university’s tiny conservative contingent is surely among the program’s supporters. Still, Columbia’s ROTC advocates are not much like Glenn Beck; one of their main organizers has admitted his hatred for Fox News and his love for National Public Radio.
For ROTC’s opponents, the military represents a threat to academic freedom, and its flaws are reasons to keep it at arm’s length. For its supporters, ROTC represents service to one’s nation, while the military’s flaws are in fact reasons to engage it.
With DADT’s repeal, Columbia’s University Senate promptly commissioned a task force to examine whether ROTC should be invited back to campus. They took a survey of students recently in the program (currently, Columbians in ROTC must commute to Fordham) and organized three public hearings. At the second hearing, Anthony Maschek, an Army veteran who took nine bullets in Iraq, was jeered and called “racist” in the middle of his remarks. His offense? He told anti-ROTC students that the U.S. military protects them from men in “other parts of the world [who] are plotting to kill you right now. . . . These people seriously are trying to kill you. They hate America, they hate you.” At the next hearing, one ROTC opponent derided Maschek’s statement as “one-dimensional.” Another opponent explained to the Columbia Spectator why they jeered: “Maschek’s remarks implied that Iraq has attacked the United States, and that Iraqis are thus among the people who want to kill Americans. But since Iraq did not attack the U.S. on September 11 or since then . . . Maschek’s statement seemed to imply that all Muslims want to kill Americans.”

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The Troubling Incident at Columbia

With “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed, Columbia University has quickly moved to re-examine whether it should once again formally participate in the Reserve Officers Training Corps program. At the second of three public hearings designed to gather input from the Columbia community, freshman Anthony Maschek calmly made his case for returning ROTC to campus, only to be jeered and called “racist” by other students. The incident might not have affected the larger debate, but for the fact that Maschek is also a nine-year Army veteran who received a Purple Heart after taking nine bullets in Iraq. After national media picked up the story, Columbia just as quickly moved to issue a press release condemning heckling, while also asserting that “the hearings as a whole have been considerate and thoughtful.” (It has posted an audio clip of Maschek’s testimony, including the jeers, but has not acknowledged him by name or apologized.) Perhaps more surprisingly, several pro-ROTC student campaigners have since attested to the school’s commitment to civil dialogue; for example, one veteran student told the Columbia Spectator that “the students who heckled Anthony . . . are not representative, not only of the anti-ROTC movement, but of the University.” Maschek himself agreed: “the atmosphere here has been supportive despite the actions of a very small minority of the town hall participants.” Maschek was heckled immediately after informing anti-ROTC students that the U.S. military protects them from men in “other parts of the world [who] are plotting to kill you right now . . . These people seriously are trying to kill you. They hate America, they hate you.” One of those students later explained to the Spectator why they jeered: “Maschek’s remarks implied that Iraq has attacked the United States, and that Iraqis are thus among the people who want to kill Americans. But since Iraq did not attack the U.S. on September 11 or since then . . . Maschek’s statement seemed to imply that all Muslims want to kill Americans.” It is difficult to decide which is more troubling: the apparent denial that some men really are working to kill Americans, or the bizarre inference that Maschek meant “all Muslims want to kill Americans.” Insofar as they hold such beliefs, Columbia’s anti-ROTC students betray a weak grasp on both reality and logic. Columbia is holding its final public hearing tonight. One hopes that everyone participating will conduct himself with civility—and reason.

ROTC Back in the News

Harvard President Drew Faust probably didn’t expect criticism when she said she looked forward to reinstating the Reserve Officer Training Corps once the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is ended. But Senator Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican and a lieutenant colonel in the state’s National Guard, said he couldn’t understand Harvard’s priorities: how could the university maintain its four-decade ban on the ROTC while promoting the Dream Act, a plan to provide amnesty to students who are in the United States illegally? Why hold the ROTC hostage to a change in military policy?
The ban on ROTC at Harvard and many other universities is an artifact of the student anti-Vietnam protests of the late Sixties. In the spring of 1969, students at Harvard, led by members of Students for a Democratic Society, stormed and occupied University Hall. In the uprising, eventually beaten back by police, rioters burned down a Marine training classroom and demanded an end to any kind of military presence on campus. “ROTC must go because we oppose the policies of the United States and we oppose the military that perpetrates them,” a statement by the students said, with clear intention of scapegoating its own military cadets for a war created and sustained by Washington politicians.
Once the rationale for banning ROTC migrated over to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the tactic remained, but with a different kind of scapegoating: blaming ROTC and the military in general for a policy created by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. Opposition to “don’t ask, don’t tell” is widespread on campuses and sincerely held, but if Harvard and other campuses wish to dissociate themselves from discriminatory organizations it should blame Congress and perhaps refuse federal funding until DADT is dropped. Harvard’s federal funding amounts to about 15 percent of its operating budget, so it’s best not to look for an outbreak of moral principle here.

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The Hard Road To A Columbia ROTC

John McCain and Barack Obama’s calls to Columbia to end its ban on the ROTC continue to yield procedural results, however much any real change remains in doubt. Columbia is set to feature two informational forums in coming weeks prior to a student survey on whether to lift or continue a ban on the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, the Columbia Spectator reported yesterday. Each forum will feature panels divided evenly between supporters and opponents of the proposal. The results of the vote won’t be binding; the issue would then likely be taken up by the University Senate. When it last addressed the question, in 2005, the Senate rejected an ROTC return.

President Bollinger injected his inimitable voice into the question in an email to students last week, which, unsurprisingly, began with a misrepresentation. Here’s an except from his email. Spot the inaccuracy:

In 2005, the University Senate voted overwhelmingly against formally inviting ROTC onto campus. Senate members may have had a variety of reasons for their votes, but the record and official reports make it reasonably clear that the predominant reason was one of adhering to a core principle of the University: that we will not have programs on the campus that discriminate against students on the basis of such categories as race, gender, military veteran status, or sexual orientation. Under the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the Defense Department, openly gay and lesbian students could or would be excluded from participating in ROTC activities. That is inconsistent with the fundamental values of the University. A number of our peer institutions have taken a similar position.

Wait, who implemented Don’t Ask Don’t Tell? Not the defense department. As Erin O’Connor deftly commented “I’ve said it before and I will say it again: DADT is the creation of Congress, not the military; students, faculty, and administrators should feel free to protest it, but they ought to aim their protests in the right direction.” Hopefully the student panels might set the record straight on this question.

Bollinger then went on to call Columbia “open for robust discussion and debate” on the question; a condition not especially obvious about an issue whose revival required not one but two presidential candidates taking the university to task. Change still looks like a difficult prospect, given the looming obstacle of a University Senate vote. In 2005, in the face of majority student support, the University Senate, composed mainly of professors and administrators, rejected a return by a daunting vote of 53-10. In the face of the McCain and Obama publicity, a significant showing of student support might be sufficient to shift votes, but, given ROTC bans’ 40-year reign as elite college doctrine, it’s difficult to become too hopeful.
The Columbia Spectator reinforces my point today:
“lost in the debate is one important fact—the power to revisit that policy is out of the hands of the undergraduate student councils, as well as student groups.”

Two Speeches at Harvard

Harvard president Drew Faust spoke at the ROTC commissioning ceremony, a controversial act on a campus where hostility to all things military is entrenched orthodoxy. The question hanging in the air was: will she tarnish a celebratory moment by taking the opportunity to denounce “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” or perhaps irritate the anti-military crowd by not mentioning the issue of gays in the service at all? Answer: neither. She finessed the issue with a deft bit of rhetoric: “The freedoms we enjoy depend vitally on the service you and your forebears have undertaken on our behalf. Indeed I wish there were more of you. I believe that every Harvard student should have the opportunity to serve in the military, as you do, and as those honored in the past have done.”

In comparison, Faust’s speech the next day to the Harvard Alumni Association, was defensive and a bit clunky. In deploring the chorus of politicians and critics who want the super-rich university to pay the equivalent of a hefty tax from its $34 billion endowment, Faust made the point that some of that money is restricted to certain causes, like the acquisition of meteorites and plants that reproduce by spores. This raises the question of how big a dent in the $34 billion is caused by the annual hunt for meteorites and exotic plants. Faust didn’t say. She did mention that a third of the university’s annual $3 billion operating budget is supplied from the endowment.

The implication was that raiding the endowment each year is necessary to meet annual costs. But Jim Manzi, entrepreneur, executive and blogger at The American Scene points out that Harvard makes money through investment returns on its General Investment Account, which currently includes about $6 billion of investible assets in operational accounts in addition to the $34 billion endowment, and that money doesn’t get reported as income. Last year that investment income came to more than $7 billion. Manzi writes: “Viewed purely in terms of economics, Harvard is really a $40 billion tax-free hedge fund with a very large marketing and PR arm called Harvard University that has the job of raising the investment capital and protecting the fund’s preferential tax treatment.” Look for the campaign to tax Harvard and other wealthy universities to gain momentum.

Columbia’s 68 Celebration: Only Radicals Need Apply

This past weekend Columbia University held a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Student Strike that shook Columbia and all of higher education. For a week, student activists occupied five buildings in protest of several policies, including ROTC’s presence on campus, the university’s relationship to the Department of Defense and the war in Vietnam, the intrusion of a new gymnasium into the neighboring African-American community, and a host of student power issues. After violent clashes between police and students brought the university to the precipice, the students won virtually all of their demands. Columbia and higher education in general have never been the same since those climactic events.

The actions of 1968 were of profound importance, calling for a thorough, critical examination in the light of the intervening forty years. Unfortunately, the panels and events over the weekend appear to have fallen short of this hope. Critical viewpoints were not showcased, and a feeling of nostalgia often held sway. Interestingly, this result was as American as apple pie.

We Americans are known for our penchant for nostalgia. We make fun of this sentiment all the time, but few of us are immune to its lures. It’s a peculiarly American trait because it is the logical product of combining non-tragic (or anti-tragic) liberal sentimentality with the unavoidable interest in the past. We care about the past, but not enough to let it drag us down with the weight of tragedy. Reinhold Niebuhr, the renowned theologian and foreign policy thinker who taught at Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary from 1930 to 1960 (he even has a street named after him on the campus), captured better than anyone the American peoples’ difficulty in fathoming tragedy and evil – including the tragedy and evil in their own hearts. In addressing the Cold War and the drive for social justice, Niebuhr called for a mentality that could face good and evil in oneself and in others, and tragedy and hope, without caving into either naive optimism or dismissive cynicism and Machiavellianism. He called the acolytes of the former mentality the “children of light,” the latter the “children of darkness.” Charting a middle course, Niebuhr advocated a more enlightened sense of balance that amounted to a more responsible form of civic education.

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Columbia’s 68 Celebration: Amidst The Radicals

By Chris Kulawik

If you closed your eyes it sounded like any other college reunion.
Men clamored and women shrieked as old faces called to them from the growing crowd. They were old friends and classmates some four decades removed.

“I can’t believe,” echoed the voices of the baby-boomer crowd, “it was exactly a hundred years ago today. It’s been so long”

“I know,” replied one, mechanically, as if she had answered that call so many times before, “everyone changes.”

They spoke of lost love and life, “summering spots” in Southampton, top twenty law schools for their kids, stock options and investments. More than one bragged about the new family sedan.

But as you opened your eyes the room changed. As the graying crowd ebbed towards the laughably bourgeoisie wine and cheese bar, name tags flashed against their crisply tailored pink shirts and retro-chic blouses:

“Tom Hurwitz, Math, Planning Committee”
“Jeff Bush, Fayerweather”

The list went on. Few included their year, but not all. There was no need to. This strange coterie of aged radicals had developed their own nomenclature.

Math, Philosophy, Fayerweather, Hamilton, Low.

These were not majors or dorms; they were occupied buildings.

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Columbia’s Rebel Reunion

Columbia University is warily approaching the 40th anniversary of its greatest disaster, the 1968 student uprising and occupation of five buildings, which vigorous and sometimes brutal New York City police eventually ended. A three-day conference looking back at the unrest begins on April 24 and describes itself as an “event,” not a celebration or even a commemoration. The conference is being staged “at” Columbia, not “by” it. The university administration is not funding, sponsoring, or organizing the conference. But university president Lee Bollinger is scheduled for two appearances, which would seem to undercut the administration’s arm’s-length posture. Further, the university is allowing the group of former protesters organizing the event to use several campus buildings, and two Columbia centers are officially listed as sponsors of individual conference events.

The conference program on the sponsors’ website promises to air a “wide range of viewpoints” on what happened and why, but the list of speakers shows no range at all – everyone seems to be a proud ex-protester or at least a familiar partisan of the Left. While Todd Gitlin (formerly the president of Students for a Democratic Society, now at Columbia’s journalism school) is a sober and reflective thinker, most of his fellow speakers are far from that standard. They include Kathleen Cleaver, Eldridge Cleaver’s widow and a former Black Panther official; veteran activist Tom Hayden; several former members of the Weather Underground; and Ti-Grace Atkinson, a radical feminist from the 1960s who opposes all sexual intercourse. Not one member of the Columbia faculty from 1968 is participating. Event sponsors say that voices of non – leftists will be included in a “multi-media narrative,” the details of which are not clear; what is clear, so far anyway, is that the panels represent only one point of view.

It isn’t as though the event’s organizers didn’t know whom to invite. Columbia sociology professor Allan Silver, who was a member of a faculty group in 1968 that tried to work out a compromise before police cleared the occupied buildings, suggested that the conference include speakers from a broad range of groups, including the Majority Coalition, which opposed the strike; New York City police officials; aides to then-mayor John Lindsay; reporters who covered the events; current or recent Columbia students in ROTC programs; and “others, NOT from the left.” The conference timetable that the organizers issued in mid-March lists representatives of none of these groups. Nor does it include any of the organized “moderates” of ’68, such as the members of Students for a Restructured University (SRU), which helped create the University Senate after the traumatic events of that spring. “It’s going to be an all-Bolshevik conference,” said Neal Hurwitz, a 1967 Columbia graduate, former member of Silver’s faculty group, and SRU leader.

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Columbia Paper Invites ROTC Return?

The Columbia Spectator offers a surprising argument for the return of ROTC to Columbia today. Here’s a sample of their case:

Opponents of ROTC argue that the program’s treatment of gays and lesbians violates the University’s anti-discrimination protocols. Those protocols should be enforced against businesses and other institutions, but the U.S. military is in a different category altogether. For all its faults, the military has too integral a role in American culture and society to be summarily banned from campus. Concerns about discrimination are surely legitimate, and any future ROTC program should be designed with the rights of LGBT students in mind. Columbia should look to the example set by MIT, which reimburses the Department of Defense on behalf of students removed from ROTC due to their sexual orientation. But to deny the military access to campus outright disengages Columbia from military issues and renders the University largely irrelevant in discussions of how issues like DADT should be addressed.

Columbia’s opposition to ROTC has failed to end DADT. In the meantime, without an ROTC program on campus, there has been little discussion of DADT and little effort to effect change. DADT is an unjust and impractical policy, but it must be fought in a way that does not sideline would-be military officers – or would-be Columbia students who may be dissuaded from applying.

The Spectator’s not alone in this position – The Harvard Crimson and several other university papers have advocated much the same thing. Student polls typically indicate an oppenness to the return of ROTC programs. And why is any of this surprising? The Spectator’s position is, after all, a very moderate one – it doesn’t concede objections to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in any measure. It’s a sad comment that this very reasonable position constitutes a far-right argument in the eyes of countless university administrations. ROTC’s most prominent university advocate is gone, and elite universities show little sign of ending their unremitting hostility to the program. Those Columbia students with an interest in ROTC will continue to have only one option: the bus to Fordham.

The ROTC Is Not Invited At Harvard

Drew Faust’s inauguration as Harvard President last Friday featured a surprising presence: the Harvard ROTC. The ROTC, which has been banned from the Harvard campus since 1969, formed a closing color guard composed of Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force students. Most wouldn’t have expected Faust to invite the ROTC – and they’d be right – she didn’t invite them. Their appearance was arranged through a request from the cadets themselves. And they were far from sure of the response; the Harvard Crimson, writing on the topic, noted that “ROTC members did not originally plan to propose the idea to Faust because they did not expect her to be interested.” Faust was receptive, however, and the closing color guard was arranged.
This appearance struck against fears that, after significant outreach to the ROTC during the Summers years, the organization would again be marginalized. Summers’ stance was hardly popular. Harvey Mansfield observed that “Summers made it clear that one of his desires on becoming President was to return ROTC to campus.” He was the first President in decades to attend ROTC commissioning ceremonies each year, where he conveyed unambiguous messages of support for the cadets. He “spoke strongly and clearly wanted things to change” a stance, Mansfield observes, that did not endear him to many at Harvard.

After the Summers experience, it was widely expected that Harvard would resume a more uniformly hostile stance towards ROTC. Neither incoming President Faust nor interim President Derek Bok attended this year’s ROTC commissioning ceremony. Stephen Rosen, the Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs, expressed a widely-recognized truth about the university at that gathering: “Harvard.. is uneasy with national military service, because it is uneasy with war, and with warriors, and it is no longer comfortable with the idea of Harvard as an American university, as opposed to an international university.”

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