Brown, ROTC and Vietnam Flashbacks

Elite university that takes $10 million from the Defense Department every year clings to old hatred of military.

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.

More importantly, the committee report reveals that such a ban is a distinctly minority sentiment, at least among alumni and the current student body. A survey of alumni reveals that 60 percent are "strongly in favor" of having Brown host ROTC, while another 17 percent are "in favor" of bringing them back, a 77 percent pro-ROTC sentiment. The largest plurality of the current student body agrees, with 31 percent also favoring an on-campus presence, and another 10 percent favoring an off-campus presence, but with college credit for courses reinstated.

The faculty? The report notes that the faculty "had the opportunity to make their views on ROTC known through letters, emails, and various open meetings." Two of those meetings occurred in April and May, and despite their "sparse" attendance, the committee noted that "antiwar sentiment continued to inform the views of several who spoke at the different open meetings." In fairness, the report also said there were some faculty members who thought Brown should "support those who would carry out their civic duty through military service."

But it is telling that the committee concluded that such meetings "rendered informal polling superfluous," with respect to faculty sentiment. One would think students and alumni who invest considerable sums of money to attend and support the university are entitled to know where the faculty currently stands on the same military institutions they have kept off campus for nearly forty years.

Perhaps the committee inadvertently revealed the answer. After voting 6-4 in favor of President Simmons opening discussions with the Department of Defense, they recommended that the 1969 resolutions remain in effect, and that Brown continue its cross-institutional relationship with Providence College. Thus, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of alumni and the largest plurality of current students support the ROTC, the committee, and by extension the university, remains committed to the same worldview they had in 1969.

Thus, at Brown University we have come full circle. An anti-war movement engendering a series of resolutions which ultimately drove ROTC from campus in 1972 remains relevant. The subsequent rationale, banning gays from the military, has been removed, although a number of students, faculty and committee members now cite the banning of transgender persons from the services as a viable substitute for their ongoing disdain, saying it is more important that Brown honor the university's anti-discrimination policy than allow ROTC back on campus. But it is impossible to ignore the prevalence of anti-war sentiment and hatred of the military that once again dominates the conversation.

"With $3 trillion spent on wars in the last decade, militarism has eaten away at the ability of the United States to care for its own people and has caused great suffering abroad," said Derek Seidman, a visiting assistant professor of history.“The foremost issue is whether militarism should be expanded,” he added. “It seems absurd to me to bring it back in the midst of one of the most unpopular wars in our country’s history,” said Julie Pittman, a Brown senior and member of the Coalition Against Special Privileges for the ROTC. Brown professor emeritus Steve Babson, who opposes ROTC expansion of any kind due to “tragically misguided military policies for intervention abroad,” concurred. “I think [the administration] should be concerned,” he said. “I think if ROTC comes back to Brown it will be a lighting rod for protests. I have no doubt.”

Anti-war protests on a college campus? Reading between the lines of the committee report and its subsequent recommendations, one gets the sense of a Baby Boomer generation's leftist elements still determined to nurse their anti-Vietnam War grudge, irrespective of the past or the present. Furthermore, they are equally determined to pass that contempt for the military onto subsequent generations.

Yet it is worth remembering that three million Asians from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos lost their lives as the result of America's withdrawal of troops and funding from Vietnam, something leftists themselves characterized as a "victory." In the face of the present terrorist threat, highlighted by the worst domestic attack in American history on 9/11, they remain equally oblivious, even as their standard-bearer in the White House has been dragged out of the anti-war sphere of influence by "events on the ground."

Leftist at Brown can conjure up any excuses they wish for keeping ROTC off campus. But it takes a remarkable level of ideologically-induced myopia to ignore the fact that the one institution they hold in contempt is the very one that grants them the freedom to engage in the luxury of such contempt. Even the transgender rationale rings hollow: only a progressive could fail to recognize the hypocrisy of standing up for a campus non-discrmination policy with regard to transgenders, even as one makes every effort to discriminate against the military that protects them and every other American. More hypocrisy? Brown currently takes $10 million in funding from the Defense Department every year.

When they forfeit that money--for principle's sake--maybe their self-righteousness can be taken seriously.