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Last Thursday, a group of Brown University students and faculty held a rally to protest proposed discussions with the U.S. military regarding the possibility of expanding the university’s involvement with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Nearly 100 participants, including protesters and onlookers, took part in the noontime gathering at the entrance of Faunce House on the College Green. The rally was in response to University President Ruth Simmons’ invitation for feedback on ROTC, prior to her report on the issue before the university corporation at their October meeting. Unsurprisingly, as has been the case on many college campuses for the better part of four decades, the ROTC remains one of academia’s most reliable bogeymen.
Last June, a special study committee narrowly recommended that Simmons begin talking with the Department of Defense in order to find ways to give Brown students greater access to ROTC, despite a set of faculty resolutions made in 1969, during the Vietnam War. The seven resolutions, revealed in the committee report, are a testament to Brown University’s disdain for the military:
1) The ROTC units at Brown University shall not carry the designation of academic departments or programs.
2) Instruction provided by an ROTC unit shall not carry credit at Brown University.
3) No officer of the ROTC units at Brown University shall have, ex officio, faculty status.
4) The awarding of a degree at Brown University shall not be conditional upon completion of an ROTC program or any portion thereof.
5) The ROTC unit shall not proscribe any choice by ROTC students of academic courses or programs.
6) The major provisions of the contract shall be brought back to the Faculty for their approval before the University commits itself to a specific ROTC program.
7) The ROTC Program shall be viewed as a special scholarship program sponsored by the Department of Defense and it has the right to require students who receive scholarship aid to supplement their study with further extracurricular instruction. Such further contractual obligations upon students shall not interfere with their normal course of instruction at the University.
The report then notes the the results of those resolutions. “The Air Force responded by immediately removing its ROTC detachment from the Brown campus; the Navy program ended a few years later. Since then, Brown students have been able to participate in the Army ROTC program at Providence College, although they receive no credit for these courses.” As a result, Brown has not had an on-campus ROTC program since 1972.
After the Vietnam War ended, academia still needed a reason to ban ROTC from campus. Banning gays from openly serving in the military was the next rationalization widely adopted. As the Brown Herald explained, “opposition to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ replaced Vietnam as the justification for keeping ROTC away,” noting that Brown “scarcely revisited its policy despite this inconsistency.” The committee report notes the last time Brown did attempt to revisit its policy was in 1982. An advisory committee contacted the Navy at the time to see if some sort of accommodation could be reached. The Navy refused to discuss the issue unless Brown applied for a formal contract with the service. As a result, the university declined to pursue the matter.
The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2010 resulted in many colleges reinstating ROTC on campus. But the last four years have also seen an increase of 27 percent in ROTC participation on campus, according to the Defense Department. The various reasons cited for the upswing include a bad economy, the fact that an all-volunteer army has replaced the draft, and the terrorist attack of 9/11. That atrocity has made students who lived through it, as opposed to reading about Vietnam in a history book, far more receptive to a campus military presence.
Whether or not this makes any impression at Brown remains to be seen. As of now, it remains the last Ivy League college to ban ROTC from campus, after Harvard, Yale and Columbia Universities all approved ROTC’s reintroduction earlier this year. Penn, Princeton, Cornell, and Dartmouth never dissolved their relationship with ROTC in the first place.
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