More on ROTC and the Ivy League

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.

Reader Eric writes:

Since 2002, I have been an advocate as an undergraduate and alumnus in the movement to restore ROTC at Columbia University. (For more about Columbia ROTC advocacy, please see http://www.advocatesforrotc.org/columbia/index.html.)

I have much to say about ROTC advocacy at my alma mater and other elite universities. For example, I am currently working on a paper intended to show the COIN era [counter-insurgency] officer envisioned by the Secretary of Defense's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review requires the kind of students and formative academic grounding available at Columbia.

However, for now, I wish to respond to this statement: "If the programs don't come back now, then there really is something else at work."

One important obstacle to ROTC return is rarely scrutinized: the policy and position of ROTC officials regarding the grant of new ROTC programs to Columbia and similar universities. My impression has been that the various ROTCs' evaluative metrics, and perhaps the biases of some ROTC officials, severely undervalue Columbia and similar universities as candidates for new programs.

That does not imply the military's leaders are against ROTC in the Ivy League. Indeed, Admiral Mullen endorsed ROTC at Columbia during our World Leaders Forum in April. However, in the same event, Mullen cautioned that ROTC's "accessions cap" is a barrier to ROTC return. In effect, ROTC bureaucracy stands in the way of the best interests of our university, military, and nation. To my knowledge, though, ROTC's bureaucracy has remained unchallenged on this issue. Worse, the policy and position of ROTC officials allow university officials who are reluctant to challenge the status quo to deflect their responsibility for the absence of ROTC on campus. (I further discussed this issue at http://learning-curve.blogspot.com/2010/04/letter-to-my-fellow-advocates-for.html)

This is a more tangled issue, which more interesting implications for America's educational, military, and social institutions, than it seems at first glance.

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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.

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