James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

James Fallows: Universities

  • Luck? Planning? Karma? The Elements of a Small Town's High-Tech Success

    A software company grows in an unlikely setting. "Why here?" we ask the founders.

    Here is the "reinvention and resilience" theme I will try to deal with in this post and in coming days: What is the combination of planning, public choice, private character, historic legacy and "path dependence," plus accident and sheer blind chance, that can put a community on an improving course -- more jobs, more opportunity, more satisfying life choices for more people -- rather than the reverse?

    One man who tried to answer The Big Questions!

    Yes, I know: thousands of scholars have written millions of words on just this question. The image at right is about one famous early attempt, which I described long ago in our pages. The chance that my wife and I will discover "the" key to community success or failure as we go from place to place is exactly zero. But -- as has been the case over the years as we have lived and traveled in Asia, Africa, and Europe -- we keep coming across interesting examples with provocative implications, and I'll introduce another of them here.

    When we were in Burlington, Vermont, I mentioned the puzzle of the local Internet company Dealer.com. Inside its headquarters, you would have thought you were in Mountain View. When you stepped outside, you were looking not at Highway 101 but at Lake Champlain, now perhaps with ice floes. How did a company like this end up so far from the tech-world ecology that spawns startups in the familiar SF-Seattle-Boston-London-Shanghai centers? We know that it's a virtual world, and in theory you can do high-value work anywhere. But in practice most of today's highest-value collaborative work takes place in clusters, where people are drawn to be with others of similar training and interests, where one successful firm gives rise to spinoffs, where communities evolve to provide the services, comforts, and daily experiences each group values.

    In Burlington's case, we heard about all the efforts to help a tech cluster emerge -- and about the enduring importance of IBM's having established a major research center in nearby Essex Junction more than 50 years ago. IBM itself employs only half as many people locally as it did at its peak, but as I described last fall it seems to have made a lasting change in the economic and educational life of the area. Tech-trained families came north for IBM. Many of their children stayed in Vermont, or came back after traveling; some started tech companies of their own. Dealer.com employed some of them -- and, we were told, its recruiting had a specific emphasis. It looked for people with the same tech or business skills that would count in the Bay Area or in Boston -- but who also had some family-tie, recreational, temperamental, or other reason to be interested in the outdoorsy Vermont life. (Since then, by the way, Dealer.com has been acquired for $1 billion. When the Northeast thaws out, we'll go back to ask them about how this affects their sense of Vermont-based localism.)


    A similar puzzle arises from the tech company, Esri, that has transformed the economy of Redlands, California -- and that is our partner, providing mapping software*, in this American Futures project.  The puzzle, again, is why -- and why here?

    Redlands had traditionally been an orange-growing town, and a university town, and a medical center for adjoining mountain and desert communities, and for a while the preferred bedroom community for officers from nearby Norton Air Force Base. But none of these prefigured the emergence of an engineer-heavy "Geographic Information Systems" company, which is the niche Esri occupies and leads worldwide.

    Esri was founded more than 40 years ago, by a husband-and-wife team, Jack and Laura Dangermond, who had grown up in Redlands and decided to come back after graduate school at the University of Minnesota and Harvard. It started to emerge as a major economic force by the early 1990s. This was fortunate timing for Redlands, to say the least. At just that time Norton Air Force Base, which during its Cold War heyday had been a very sizable bomber, missile, and defense-research center, was being shuttered as part of the Bush I/Clinton-era rationalization of surplus bases. The Norton population had by definition been transient. But many of its officers and their families chose to stay or to return when they left the Air Force, and even during their active-duty years in the town they often played a big role in civic projects. The removal of Norton could have been a serious problem for the regional economy.

    The main Esri cafeteria.

    Apart from helping the area through the base-closing bump, the continued growth of Esri has meant thousands of new tech-industry jobs in a city where that represents a large share of the professional work force. Plus new demand for restaurants, entertainment, local retail, and other attributes of cities that seem economically alive -- and museums, concerts, and other markers of healthy civic culture.   

    Much more than the now-absent Norton, Esri has also changed the human look of the town. Through much of the 20th century, Redlands's ethnic makeup had been an Anglo/Latino balance. Among the whites, there were large groups of Dutch immigrants and their descendants (as in Holland, Michigan); Mormons (whose forebears settled the area in the 1840s and 1850s before being recalled to Utah by Brigham Young); and Dust Bowl-era emigres from the Plains and South. Among the Latinos, nearly all were Mexican and many of those were from families that had been in the area for several generations, having first come north after the Mexican Revolution of the early 1900s.

    Those were the blocs that mattered, Mexican and mixed-Anglo, when I was growing up. Now, a big tech company means that the faces on the street and at the parks and in the schools include far more people from China, India, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Russia, Israel, Belarus, Ethiopia, New Zealand, and most other countries you might name. This change de-parochializes a community in countless ways.

    The company has made another mark on Redlands, as some of the pictures here may suggest. Jack Dangermond's parents immigrated from Holland (the one in Europe) and ran a popular plant nursery in town. Jack Dangermond's first degree was in landscape architecture, and he and Laura have planted and landscaped so extensively for so many years that they have made Esri's campus and some other public areas in town a kind of arboretum / jungle retreat.

    Like any big economic force in a small place, Esri engenders some complaints -- like Microsoft (or now Amazon) during its boom times in Seattle, like various tech companies in SF these days. But in frequent return visits to Redlands over the years, and in asking again in recent weeks, we've heard many fewer cavils about Esri's influence than recognitions that the town would be profoundly poorer and worse off if the company had not been started there, or if it had left for a more mainstream headquarters with a larger natural pool of potential tech recruits.

    Customer delegation on the Esri campus. The founders had a family background in landscape architecture and the nursery business and have filled the site with boulders and countless thousands of trees.

    Which leads us back to why the company began here, and why it hasn't left. Esri is still privately held by the Dangermonds, and run by them. While they are major public figures within their tech community -- for instance, Jack is the on-stage impresario of the vast annual User Conference, which draws tens of thousands from around the world --  they otherwise lead a press-avoiding life. The few times I have tried to ask them the "Why here?" question, their answers have boiled down to "Where else?"

    Their reaction has been a version of the answer from Captain Bob Peacock, with which I end my article, in the current issue, about his very different hometown of Eastport, Maine. Bob Peacock had lived all around the world, so my wife and I asked him why he had come back to a hard-pressed, microscopic settlement on the farthest eastern extremity of America. He tossed off the answer as if it were self-evident: This is where he was from, it was where he knew people, it was where he wanted to be.

    Something similar seems to be the case with the founders of this company in Redlands. This is where they were from and where they wanted to be, so they felt lucky to be able to make it all work here. And on the practicalities of recruitment: as with Dealer.com in Vermont, they could conduct a certain kind of targeted search. Their ideal candidate would have the right sales, tech, or design skills -- but would also be looking for the virtues of smaller-town rather than hip-big-city life: bigger houses with broader lawns, 5-minute commutes, good public schools, lower costs.

    Esri's new "Building Q" on its Redlands campus, site of executive offices and auditorium for community forums.

    What does this mean, as prescription, for anyplace else? I don't know. I realize that you can't make a formula out of hoping that a locally raised couple goes off for schooling and then decides that the right place for a tech start-up is back home -- and decades later becomes a big international success. But an increasingly powerful impression in our travels is how much these local loyalties -- plus local ownership, and the sense of "local patriotism" we have felt in places otherwise as dissimilar as Sioux Falls or Burlington or Redlands or Holland -- really matter in the fate of a town.

    Jack Dangermond, in Esri photo.

    Next up, some illustrations of how, exactly, the software produced in Building Q and its environs has made its mark around the world, plus helped us in this project. Then more about the future of the endangered citrus industry, and the next themes beyond that.

    Meta-point for weekend reflection: When we were doing similar prowling through small-town China, the prevailing world view was, "Hey, China is really happening!" So the creativity we saw even in remote Gansu or Ningxia could seem to fit a larger pattern.

    The prevailing world view about America in recent years has been, "Hey, we're screwed." We are intentionally looking for successful smaller cities. But if you thought things were going well in America, the kinds of things we're seeing would back up your point.


    *To clarify: Esri, like Marketplace, is a "partner" in, but not a "sponsor" of, this project. For Marketplace, this means that we're covering some of the same places together. For Esri, it means that the company is providing software and long hours of guidance on using it, but not any direct financial support.

    Also: I did not know Jack or Laura Dangermond while growing up, but our families were friendly, as part of small-town life. My siblings and I spent countless weekends being deployed to Dangermond's nursery to buy bushes, trees, ivy, sod, fertilizer, vegetable seeds, or other items for use in our yard.

  • On the Character of a Community: What Local Narratives Emphasize, and Leave Out

    The role of universities, and our un-loved public efforts.

    Cover image from Faithfully and Liberally Sustained, an entire book, by local historians Larry Burgess
    and Nathan Gonzales, about the philanthropic tradition in a small Southern California town.

    Yesterday I argued that the narrative of turning points -- the big choices that built an individual, a family, a community, a nation -- plays a big part in our sense of future possibilities. If you think that you and your people are better off for the hardships you've seen, you face new hard times one way. If you think you're on the wrong side of a long, Buddenbrooks/Downton Abbey-style slide from past glory, you view them differently.

    For our latest American Futures town of Redlands, California, a very important part of the local narrative was awareness of the Founding Fathers and Mothers who had set up the small-town counterparts to the National Mall or Central Park. How many small Sunbelt towns have whole histories written about their philanthropic heritage, like the one above? (Which I have with me at home, and will quote from further soon.) Or a promotional documentary like the one Redlands produced for its 125th anniversary last year, which was as earnest as anything from the Frank Capra era in drawing connections between the wisdom of our forebears and real-world choices today?

    Two reader reactions on the larger implications of this local story. First, from a resident of Claremont, California, which is only half as far from Los Angeles as Redlands is, and is at least twice as well known:

    I think more than just "forefather foresight," generally, must be acknowledged as a reason why Redlands does not resemble most of the south-of-San Gabriel-Mountains sprawl: the presence of the University of Redlands, and the consequent effect on income, education, citizen participation, desire for amenities, willingness to spend public funds on unselfish things like preserve orange groves, or buy up hillsides, or build more high schools, etc.

    The other city in this range that uniquely does not resemble the others is Claremont. I don't think it's coincidental to this uniqueness that the Claremont Colleges are located there.

    Yes, I agree. Claremont is a "university town" in a way few other places in the West can match, because not one but eight colleges and graduate institutes are based within its small borders. These include Pomona (where I almost went to college), Scripps (where my sister did), Harvey Mudd, and on through the list. Redlands has never been university-centric in the way Claremont is, but it has always been university-influenced, by its small, liberal-arts-oriented University of Redlands.  

    Promotional photo from University of Redlands.

    There is no surprise in saying this, but the more we've traveled the more we've been reminded of the economic and cultural throw-weight of local colleges and universities. (As John Tierney has often discussed in this space, for instance about communities in Vermont and Maine.) Their short-run effect, in bringing in students to boost local demand, matters much less than the long-term changes they can work in the character of a community. That is, attracting a different kind of person to live there and change the kind of place it is.

    That effect is obvious when we're talking about big, famous university centers -- Cambridge, the Bay Area sweep of Berkeley through Palo Alto, Pasadena with Caltech. It has made a crucial difference even in little Redlands. Half a century ago, in the 25,000-population town I remember from school days, Redlands tried to be more than just a sunbelt boom town by bolstering its still-strong orange-growing industry with a mix of higher-end industries and jobs:

    • It had the university, which because it was especially strong in music, drama, speech, and performing arts, bolstered the local cultural community;
    • It was the nicest nearby bedroom community for giant Norton Air Force Base, and many of the colonels' (etc) families who lived for a few years in Redlands had broader international experience;
    • In much the way Sioux Falls is increasingly the retail and medical center for the rest of South Dakota, Redlands, on the edge of the Mojave, was a medical center for vast desert communities. This was what drew my parents to the city when my dad finished his time as a Navy doctor; some of his patients came from 100 miles away.
    • It had a high-tech defense-contractor community, in the form of Grand Central Rocket which later became part Lockheed Propulsion. Thus some of my school teachers had come to the area as Okies during the Dust Bowl and Depression. And some were scientists, or their spouses, who had come from the East Coast or Europe to work at Grand Central.
    The History of Redlands documentary.

    These days Norton is closed and long gone; neighboring Loma Linda has an enormous Veterans' hospital and university medical system to compete with Redlands doctors (though many of those families live in Redlands); Grand Central Rocket is no more, and the Lockheed site has been the subject of a drawn out toxic-waste lawsuit; and the University has faced the challenges of other small non-famous liberal-arts colleges.

    Now what helps the city retain its character -- and live out what it considers its local narrative -- is the software company Esri, which is our partner in this project. Even 20 years ago, few people would have imagined that a locally owned, privately held, globally dominant software company could bring thousands of engineers and designers from around the world and work in this small city, but that is what has occurred. We asked about the causes and ramifications, and will go into them soon.

    The only indication of multi-thousand-employee tech company, Esri, on the road into town.

    But the look-and-feel implications are already obvious. About a week ago my wife stepped into a Redlands coffee shop that would have fit in perfectly in Brooklyn, Berkeley, or West LA. "Those people over there are from the university," another local shop owner told her, pointing to one group of customers. "And the ones over here are from Esri."


    Now, on the policy implications, from our old friend Mike Lofgren. As a reminder, he is a long time Republican Congressional aide, and author of The Party is Over. He says this about the turning-points narrative:

    On the development, infrastructure, and the process of community growth and decay: It has something to do, as you say, with “stories we tell ourselves,” but I think in a more direct and ideological fashion than that phrase implies.

    It is remarkable that much of our present infrastructure – or perhaps it is better to describe it as the mental image of what we think a city should be – dates back well over a century. Some of it, like streetcars and interurbans, is no longer with us precisely because of business decisions that were partly ideological. But think of all that remains – urban parks like Central Park or Boston Common, the stately campuses of long-established public universities, public buildings like those surrounding the Mall in Washington, the Brooklyn Bridge, the New York subway – all were constructed long ago as collective enterprises that transcended the now-sacrosanct goal of immediate private profit.

    The free-market fundamentalist ideology that has dominated public debate for the last 35 years has attempted to obscure all of this by projecting onto the past a fantasy vision of the United States as a sort of Ayn Rand utopia before it was spoiled (depending on the point the ideologue is making) by the New Deal, the Great Society, or the 2009 Stimulus. Much of this is historical distortion owing to ignorance compounded by partisan bias, but public purpose in development goes all the way back to George Washington and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the National Road.

    We actually fought the battle over the Stimulus before, on a tragic scale: politicians in what eventually became the Confederacy were  opposed to “internal improvements,” because they intuitively understood it would hasten the end of their system of feudal slavery.

    I suspect, however, that some of this false projection is not just ignorance, but rather a mendacious attempt at dominating the present by changing our collective perception of the past, in the manner of Stalin airbrushing Trotsky from photographs.

    A particularly egregious example is Amity Schlaes’ The Forgotten Man, a cherry-picking polemic which “proves” the New Deal was a failure that prolonged the Great Depression. Quite apart from the overriding fact that the United States survived the depression with its institutions intact while many  democracies did not, it is hard to think of America as a better place if it were to lack projects like TVA or the Grand Coulee Dam, not to mention the hundreds of post offices and other public buildings such as the National Gallery, as well as jewels like Shenandoah National Park.

    To tie this all together -- the WPA, historical architecture, local consciousness, purposeful narratives -- here is a snapshot of a watercolor on our dining-room wall by the Redlands artists Janet Edwards. It shows the WPA-built local post office, now of course up for impending sale.

    The inscription inside (where I once worked as a mail sorter and letter carrier) said that the building was dedicated only a few months after FDR took office. Things moved quickly in those days. More on the power of personal, local, and national narrative soon -- in fact, next year. New Year's greetings to all.

  • American Futures: Grand Finale Holland-Palooza

    A small arena in which many dramas are being played out.

    Over the past few weeks my wife and I have had a lot to say about the little lakeside manufacturing town of Holland, Michigan. Main themes: conservative Dutch-religious influence for better and worse, manufacturing culture, economically important and unevenly assimilated immigrant community, culturally important though sometimes controversial local corporate dynasties, resurrected downtown, idiosyncrasies of local language, and on through the list.

    Inside Marriage Special Report bug
    Reinvention and resilience across the nation
    Read more

    I was preparing one last "substance" post on Holland, about the gay-equality initiatives that have run into trouble from the city government and the leadership of the church-affiliated local Hope College. I talked about the resulting controversies with many people including (at the New Holland Brewery) with the mayor.

    But many people have written in on that very theme, so for now I'll wrap up with their letters and some others on larger themes from this small town. At the end of this post, a preview of where we are headed next.

    'I won't live there.' I got a lot of messages in this vein:

    I'm a graduate of Hope College, magna cum laude in [XX subject in the late 1970s]. I know the area well.  I have some Dutch ancestry.  My sister is [an official] about 30 miles north.  I know Holland and western Michigan and Dutch-American culture from the inside.

    I grant all the excellent qualities you have written about --hard work, ingenuity, social cohesion, and a sense of an America very different from DC or NYC.

    I won't live in Holland, and when my own children [three ages 15-19] have looked at colleges (or will), I never suggested my alma mater.

    My reason: the social narrowness of smug Dutch-American culture.  Athough there is a very significant Latino population in Holland, it has not successfully challenged Dutch-American Christian Reformed hegemony.  That hegemony will allow no compromises.

    You alluded to this smugness when you mentioned the failure of the gay rights initiative(s) there. I wouldn't want to raise my children in this atmosphere, and I don't want my children going to college in it.  The hateful things that were said during that discussion give evidence of the smugness of that culture.

    I live in Connecticut now (outside New Haven), and there's a lot wrong with CT.  But we experience far more cultural, religious, and racial diversity here.  It's not perfect, but we're working on it.

    Holland has many fine qualities.  But it's suffocating for many people, including me.  Do mention the numerous people from Holland, and Western Michigan, who have fled the cultural suffocation.

    'I won't live there, either.' To give another sample:

    It's interesting how a brief visit imbues one with all sorts of ideas about a place.  I'm sure you've received a lot of letters from residents or locals; this is another one (although now I split time between Evanston/Chicago and Wuhan, Hubei, PRC.

    You got the local money part right.  It's the underlying provincialism and Calvinist ethic that one has to be there a long time to understand.  A corollary article might be "What's it like to be an outsider in Holland?"

    It gets pretty insulated.  Having grown up there, I'm now a "FIP", as in "fucking Illinois person".  There's a long list of similar story lines.

    It gets real small in Holland.  You saw it at its best. [As below]

    The equality struggle. From a filmmaker nearby.

    As you and your wife continue your journey, I wanted to be sure you are aware of the non-profit Until Love is Equal. (I doubt many Hollanders will bring it up.)...

    While the efforts of this Grand Rapids-based group have been determined and well-intentioned, I don't believe the council has taken any action on the issue as a result of ULIE's campaign. I do believe, however, that the campaign's message and media campaign has helped generate fresh dialogue among Hollanders (and surrounding communities) about the average experience of gay citizens in their city. Or maybe not. Could be worth asking?

    Yes indeed. We actually heard about ULIE while there, and the controversy over the city's rejection of its measures came up repeatedly. Especially we heard this from some international business people who were concerned that it would mark the city as intolerant and thus make recruiting to Holland a harder sell for professionals they were trying to attract from bigger-city America or overseas.

    Why a Dutch-American community could be less tolerant than the original Holland itself. Also on this theme:

    I live in Grand Rapids and it is a bit embarrassing that they cannot figure this out in a region that wishes to emulate their [Netherlands] homeland (as they often proclaim.) We have asked what does it say about being billed as a welcoming community when their leaders out and out reject LGBT as full citizens worthy of protections.

    Grand Rapids enacted protections for their LGBT in 1994. MIchigan has more than 20 other cities that have followed since...except Holland. The council rejected its opportunity even after their civil rights committee said overwhelming this was a real problem.

    And racially divided. A reader born and raised there writes:

    I truly do believe Holland is a unique city, and one ripe for study -- especially after coming to college and getting a better perspective on how most cities of Holland's size operate economically and socially.

    Growing up in Holland, I was a bit of an outcast politically (not just in the town, in my family, too). So I was highly critically ofHolland's political and religious climate. Now I appreciate more fully how valuable an experience it was to grow up in such a diverse climate -- diverse politically, economically, and racially. And now I unabashedly love the city.

    Holland's racial divisions is an issue I would encourage you to pay special attention to. I attended Holland public schools, and by the time I got to Holland High School, there were discussions amongst friends and teachers about the drastic "white flight" experienced by Holland public schools over the past few decades. Of course no empirical study exists, but if you look at the number of students Holland public schools lost -- mainly to schools within driving distance of Holland public (Michigan is a "school of choice" state) -- and look at the changing racial composition of the schools, while also considering Holland's struggle with some pretty serious gang activity in the late 1980s and 1990s, I don't think "white flight" is too strong a term.

    More »

  • More on ROTC and the Ivy League

    Why the military might not rush right back to Harvard or Yale

    I won't pursue this indefinitely, but many interesting additions have come in on the question of whether Harvard, Yale, etc should/will/must bring back on-campus ROTC programs, now that the main stated objection to the programs is going away. Background here, here, and here; I'll collect all ROTC-related items here.

    As a reminder, the programs were originally pushed off-campus in the 1960s in protest of the Vietnam war; through the last two decades, they've been kept out of some elite schools in protest of the military's refusal to accept openly gay service members. Students at those schools can accept ROTC scholarships, but they go off-campus for training -- for instance, to MIT for Harvard students, and to Berkeley (!) for Stanford.

    First, from a member of West Point's class of 1972, who says that ROTC's problem is broader than the ban at several campuses and has its own "class war" aspects: 

    ROTC seems to be disappearing from private universities even where the program survived the Viet Nam era. Around 15 years ago I worked for the North Carolina Army National Guard (NCARNG) in the recruiting office and acted as the coordinator between the NCARNG and the ROTC programs in the state. Davidson College and Duke University both had thriving ROTC programs at that time.

    Around this time the Army restructured the ROTC scholarship program to the point where the ROTC scholarship would not cover the costs of attending a private university the way it had before. I saw the ROTC programs at Duke and Davidson shrink from being ROTC battalions to being satellites (the battalions moved to UNC-Chapel Hill and Charlotte, respectively). My contacts at UNC (where I work) and Charlotte (where one of my kids goes and who wants to enroll in ROTC this fall) tell me that this situation still exists. Good people who had the desire to be officers and the academic credentials to go to schools like Duke and Davidson took their ROTC scholarships to state schools where the money went farther. ROTC has been priced out of the market in at least some non-public schools.

    Quite frankly, I would accuse the Ivy League schools of contributing to the existing class rift in the country that resulted from the Viet Nam era draft. I would challenge these elite schools to meet the armed forces half way: if the Defense Department does away with DADT, the elite schools need to provide ample scholarship aid to ROTC scholarship cadets to make it feasible to have ROTC back on these campuses...

    Now, from a product of Berkeley's ROTC program, who argues that for dollars-and-cents reasons the military will not be rushing to reconstitute programs at Harvard etc even if they are officially welcomed back in:

    As a UC Berkeley ROTC graduate and current Naval officer, I feel obliged to point out that there's a fair bit of myth and misinformation surrounding the absence of ROTC units from "elite" campuses. While it's certainly true that many campus administrators and student groups have objected to the presence of ROTC units because of DADT, the services' manning and budgetary demands are what is actually behind the absence of the program at elite universities.

    An ROTC program requires an O-6 (Colonel/Captain) to lead the command, and O-5 (Lieutenant Colonel/Commander) to serve as executive officer, and several additional officers and senior enlisted personnel to fill advisory and administrative positions. If a campus's student body is relatively small, an ROTC program will probably not be able to attract a sufficient number of students to justify the expense of maintaining such a staff.

    Therefore, ROTC programs are generally found at either campuses with large undergraduate classes, or at schools in close proximity to other universities. For example, the UC Berkeley-hosted Navy ROTC program hosts students from Stanford, UC Davis, and the California Maritime Academy. The MIT-hosted program is made available to students at Harvard and Tufts.

    While it's certainly true Stanford and Harvard may choose to lift the ban on ROTC if DADT is repealed, the Navy will almost certainly not invest the resources to begin new programs at either school. Similarly, unless another large university is founded in New Haven, it is doubtful ROTC will come to Yale.

    Navy ROTC programs: https://www.nrotc.navy.mil/colleges_nrotc_unitsXP3.aspx
    Army ROTC programs: http://branchorientation.com/rotc/find_schools.jsp
    Air Force ROTC programs: http://www.afrotc.com/college-life/college-locator/

    Finally, after the jump, a Columbia graduate argues that torpor and hidebound-ness on the military's side has made the situation worse.

    More »

  • Correction: No ROTC at Stanford

    Where Berkeley is more "conservative" than Stanford.

    Earlier today I quoted a reader who said that Army ROTC had returned to Stanford. It turns out that that is not exactly so. Like Harvard, Stanford has an "off-campus" program. Students may be members of ROTC, but they go elsewhere for training. Reader Michael Segal writes:

    The statement made by a member of Advocates for Harvard ROTC that "Stanford University already has Army ROTC" is not true  We summarize the situation at: http://www.advocatesforrotc.org/national/

    Stanford: (Off-campus Navy, Army and Air Force ROTC, no university-sponsored ROTC Web page)

    The confusion may be with UC Berkeley, which has both Army and Navy ROTC, or the writer may have heard of the committee at Stanford examining inviting ROTC to return.  Also, it is not clear whether this week's effort to repeal DADT will succeed, and what the effect will be if it does succeed.  I outlined some of the nuances at http://www.securenation.org/a-centrist-approach-to-reform-of-%E2%80%9Cdon%E2%80%99t-ask-don%E2%80%99t-tell%E2%80%9D/, with some updates for this week's events.
     
    Michael Segal '76 MD PhD
     
    • 21 May 2010 Boston Globe article "Harvard's ROTC grads to get full treatment in Yard commissioning".  Note:  Speaking at Harvard ROTC Commissioning on 26 May will be Michael G. Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, depicted in the film Charlie Wilson's War, former US Senator Paul Kirk '60 and Harvard President Drew Faust. 

    Noted for the record. Another reader writes to say:

    As someone who went the ROTC route (thanks to a full scholarship!) and has now served almost 21 years in the Air Force I have to completely agree with the National Defense author: "increasing estrangement of the professionalized military from the rest of society was dangerous for democracy in the long run"

    I think this was well captured by the attached picture you've probably seen, which made the rounds a few years ago.
    atthemall.png

    After the jump, another Stanford student on the situation there.
    ____

    More »

  • Three About DADT, ROTC, and the Ivies

    What was really behind the Ivy League ROTC ban?

    In response to this item, late last night, arguing that the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" could and should mean the end of ROTC's exclusion from a number of elite university campus, these responses:

    Reader Konstantin Doren challenges the basic premise of my argument:

    I just (about a month ago) found my heavily underlined and dog eared copy of "National Defense" on my bookshelf. I thought I had lost it. The writer of that book, of all people, should know how inextricably intertwined, or closely knit, our military already is to our society and economy. At least the ivy ROTC bans keep one group of students at arm's length from the claws of the military recruiters.

    The only reason the people who fought for the ROTC ban during the Vietnam era would not have urged or imaged that the policy still be in place today is because they did not believe they could be so successful. They thought then it was a bad idea for Americans to be killing Vietnamese and, in their heart of hearts, know it is a bad idea for Americans to be killing Muslims today.

    As it happens, I am familiar with what the author of National Defense said then and would say now on the subject. When that book came out, nearly 30 years ago, he argued that the increasing estrangement of the professionalized military from the rest of society was dangerous for democracy in the long run. There's a longer argument back and forth on this question, but for now my point is: if we are going to be a world military power, it is (in my view) better in the long run if the military includes and reflects as many strands of society as possible.

    Reader Steven Corneliussen challenges my assertion that the Vietnam-era push to get ROTC off elite campuses was mainly about Vietnam, rather than mainly being about the military:

    As someone who wore an ROTC uniform during Vietnam at Duke [in the Vietnam era], I'm not so sure that late-60s opponents of ROTC envisioned only a temporary banishment. Then and now, I thought that whatever was to be made of Vietnam, respect for military service needed to be conserved for the long term -- and I also believed that many around me explicitly, in fact energetically, disagreed. My perception was that many wanted ROTC not just gone, but gone forever.

    That is consistent with the argument made by John Wheeler (mentioned yesterday) over the years, that the ban on ROTC was in effect a stigmatizing, "blame the soldier" policy. He, like Corneliussen, is in a better position to judge those effects than I am. Speaking for myself, I viewed this as always having been about Vietnam.

    Another reader writes to add:

    There has been an organized effort to bring ROTC back to Harvard for decades (I'm a member of the group) and Stanford University already has Army ROTC.

    Yes, these efforts have a long history. But the point of raising the matter now is that, with the pending elimination of DADT, the main stated objection to ROTC's full return has been removed. If the programs don't come back now, then there really is something else at work.

  • DADT and Ivy League ROTC

    Might the end of the anti-gay policy bring ROTC back to elite campuses?

    The impending deal to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars openly gay people from military service will be good for the military, good for the country, and good for national security. The national security argument includes the damage the military has needlessly done itself by dismissing Arabic-language interpreters and translators because of their sexual orientation.

    It should also have another effect, in ending the prolonged absence of ROTC programs from a number of the nation's elite universities. (ROTC = Reserve Officer Training Corps, a way of bringing civilian-educated officers into the military.) The case I know best is Harvard's, where ROTC programs were forced off campus in the late 1960s as part of the general effort to register opposition to Vietnam war policies. That made sense at the time, at least to me. But what was initially intended as a focused objection to a specific war extended into a general separation between an important military intake system and some of the most elite universities. This separation is, in my view, bad for the military, bad for the universities, and bad for the country. Almost no one urging the anti-ROTC change of those days would have argued or imagined that 35 years after U.S. troops left Vietnam the ban should still be in place. As the original Vietnam-related rationale has faded into distant memory, the prohibition on ROTC has been sustained as an objection to the military's exclusion of openly gay service members.

    John P. Wheeler III is a member of West Point's class of 1966, which was the subject of Rick Atkinson's wonderful book The Long Grey Line. (Wheeler and I have been friends for many years.) He has just organized a public campaign by Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Stanford alumni to bring ROTC back to those campuses, in anticipation of the removal of this last stated objection to their presence and as a recognition of what he sees as the "blame the soldier" implications of ROTC's continued exclusion. The text of the public letter they sent today to the universities' governing boards is after the jump. I don't agree with every part of their statement or rationale, but I fully support the conclusion. A volunteer military, despite its advantages in efficiency, naturally becomes separate over time from much of the society it defends -- especially people in elite positions. Any measure that more closely knits the military to its society is a plus, and ROTC has historically been an important part of forming that bond. It's time to bring it back. Letter follows.

    More »

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