Columbia's Disgrace

A disabled war hero gets heckled -- and phony excuses to ban the ROTC from elite colleges keep coming.

“It doesn’t matter how you feel about the war,” Columbia University freshman Anthony Maschek told classmates last week. “It doesn’t matter how you feel about fighting. There are bad men out there plotting to kill you.”

Maschek knows this too well. In 2008, the Army staff sergeant got shot eleven times in a fight in Kirkuk, Iraq. Before arriving at Columbia last August, Maschek had spent two years rehabilitating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His road from Idaho to Columbia via Iraq was certainly the one less travelled.

Such a story awes and inspires the rest of America. At Columbia, Maschek got heckled. “Racist!” one student reportedly jeered, while others booed and laughed at the disabled veteran, according to the New York Post.

The wounded warrior’s impromptu speech was part of the second of three campus forums on the possible return of the Reserve Officers Training Corps to Columbia in the wake of the repeal of the congressional ban on open homosexuals serving in the military. At the first forum, like the second, a slight majority of speakers urged the school to continue to keep ROTC out of Morningside Heights. The third forum takes place February 23. The University Senate votes on the matter in April.

Columbia is hardly the sole hotbed of military bashing. With the lifting of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” prohibition on out-of-the-closet gays serving in the armed forces, schools—Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Brown, etc.—that discriminate against ROTC cadets (but not, consequently, against military research grants and contracts) have the face-saving opportunity to welcome back would-be student servicemen. Instead, the disappearance of gays in the military as an issue has prompted ever-more creative rationalizations for continued anti-military discrimination.

“Harvard should promote public service, but supporting the military as a particular form of service is problematic,” sophomore Christian Anderson contended in a debate over ROTC returning to America’s oldest college. “Not everything the military does constitutes public service.” The rebuttal came in response to a College Republican’s seemingly benign remark that including ROTC at Harvard would honor students serving America.

Conrad Honicker, an Emory University freshman, complained in the school paper that the military has “no services in place to update gender, and trans-related health care is systematically denied to transgender service members and veterans…. How can we justify bringing ROTC and military recruiters onto our campus when their values so clearly contradict our affirmation of our transgender friends and peers?”

Alok Vaid-Menon, president of Stanford University’s Students for Queer Liberation, echoed similar concerns regarding the military’s exclusion of the transgendered: “A re-introduction of ROTC on college campuses (including Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia) that include ‘gender identity’ in their non-discrimination clause is a fundamental violation of policy and an endorsement of discrimination.”

Like the Ivy League, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines are exclusive institutions. Recruits must pass physical and mental tests. There are size and age restrictions. Moral issues, such as a criminal past or heavy drug use, can disqualify. Elite colleges are similarly particular about who gains entrance. Top students not only understand why such exclusionary measures are necessary for the Ivy League, they take pride in them. Why, then, do they cry “discrimination”—as if it were always a dirty world—at the military for employing selectivity? There have always been people ineligible for military service just as there have always been people ineligible for Columbia, Brown, and Harvard.

The rationalizations—the Vietnam War, the exclusion of gays, transgender rights—have changed. The contempt for the armed services has not.

As is the case at other schools, justifications for keeping ROTC out of Columbia run the gamut. “Transpeople are part of the Columbia community,” remarked one student. A sign–bearer explained via placard: “1 in 3 female soldiers experiences sexual assault in the military.” “Universities should not be involved in military activities,” Professor Emeritus Herbert Gans told the New York Post. “Columbia should come out against spending $300 billion a year on unnecessary wars.”

One wonders what issues would arise as hurdles for ROTC to overcome should the military address the aforementioned concerns. Ageism? Handicappism? Fatsoism? There are scores of phony reasons for banning ROTC. There is one real reason: academia hates the military.

More than forty years ago, when the activists of the 1960s first succeeded in kicking ROTC off college campuses, the buzzphrase of bad-faith radicals was “the issue is not the issue.” It still isn’t.

Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Sky News, PBS, CSPAN, and other broadcast networks. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at