News | Student Life

Opinions mixed at USenate's first ROTC town hall

The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy may be on its way out, but a slight majority of speakers at a University Senate-sponsored town hall on Monday night said the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps should not be invited back to Columbia.

About 40 people spoke at the town hall, 21 of them against a potential ROTC return. There were about to 100 people in attendance.

ROTC opponents discussed issues ranging from the military’s policy excluding transgender individuals, to abuse of women in the military, to general disapproval of military action.

Many students argued that Columbia should not engage with the military because it has taken part in immoral wars, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan, and disproportionately recruits disadvantaged individuals.

Malena Arnaud, BC ’11, was part of a group of students that brought a sign reading “The military preys on low-income communities.”

“The problems with the military haven’t disappeared, haven’t changed in two years, and haven’t changed in 40 years since the ’60s, when students also didn’t want it on campus,” Arnaud told Spectator after the town hall.

A group of veterans, most of whom are currently enrolled in the School of General Studies and Columbia graduate schools, defended the military and ROTC.

Michael Zapata, a business school student who spent more than nine years in the Navy, said that bringing ROTC to Columbia would help create a better-educated military leadership, an argument echoed by many ROTC supporters. He said this would end up allaying the concerns of many ROTC opponents.

“The way to make a change is from the inside,” Zapata said. “And having ROTC here allows you to impact potential future leaders of the military.”

James Applegate, an astronomy professor and member of the University Senate’s Task Force on Military Engagement, has been vocal in the past about his belief that the repeal of DADT would end most student opposition to ROTC.

“I think in particular some of the anti-ROTC groups have never really talked to the veterans,” Applegate said. “I think the veterans run into some of the stereotypical anti-military attitudes a lot.”

Other ROTC opponents said that the military’s policy of excluding transgender individuals violates the University’s non-discrimination policy. Avi Edelman, CC ’11 and president of Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, said that while “a lot of the rhetoric has made it seem like the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’” has eliminated all military discrimination, Columbia should not invite ROTC back until the military allows transgender individuals to enlist.

“I think it’s a really tough decision but it’s the right one, and our University has a history of being able to make those tough calls,” Edelman said.

The town hall was the first in a series of three sponsored by the University Senate’s task force. The task force plans to summarize campus and alumni opinion, as revealed by the town halls, poll all undergraduates and certain graduate students, and present a report to the full University Senate on March 4.

The University Senate last put together a task force in 2005, which resulted in a 53-10 senate vote, with five abstentions, against a resolution that called for an ROTC program to be established on campus as soon as possible. Currently students can participate in an off-campus ROTC program at Fordham University, but Columbia has not hosted its own ROTC program since the 1960s.

The task force was started in December, in the wake of Congress’ repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which had prevented gays from serving openly in the military. DADT had dominated the campus debate on ROTC in 2008, but there were few mentions of it on Monday night.

Learned Foote, CC ’11 and president of the Columbia College Student Council, spoke in favor of inviting ROTC back. He said that while the event was characterized by “very civil discourse,” he did not like that anyone could make a claim “without it being fact-checked.”

“I think there were a lot of things that were said that were not true, and I would hope that when the task force makes its recommendations, that they consider both the feelings that were expressed today, and also the facts,” Foote said.

Jose Robledo, GS, a University senator, and ROTC cadet said that while the town hall was “a lot more civilized” than ROTC discussions in years past, he was disappointed by the arguments that were made.

“For the most part, a lot of intellectual arguments that a University of this caliber is supposed to have were not had here,” Robledo said. “A lot of those arguments [from the town hall] are regurgitations of popular rhetoric, and that was easily seen by how quickly the point-counterpoint went.”

The second and third town halls will take place Feb. 15 and Feb. 23. The University Senate is expected to vote in April on whether to invite ROTC back to campus.

An earlier version of this article miscounted the number of speakers against ROTC as 22. There were 21 speakers who articulated a position against ROTC. Spectator regrets this error.

sammy.roth@columbiaspectator.com

Comments

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Anonymous posted on

I was there last night. I couldn't believe how self-righteous some of those students are, when they have very little knowledge of the issues. No, just because "you know someone" in the military doesn't make you a subject matter expert. Getting shot at doesn't necessarily, either, but I'm far more inclined to listen to that person.

+1
+3
-1
Anonymous posted on

I was there as well, I thought it was definitely a great discussion. Your post however is both insulting and extremely vague. What is the subject matter that you are speaking of? Is it the statistics that the "self-righteous" people quoted from the Department of Defense itself? The experiences of loved ones in the military? Historical facts about abuses perpetrated by the military, both against other populations and even within itself (against minorities and women)? I think, however, you have a valid point, one shouldn't need to know someone in the military to be a subject matter expert, or to have a valid opinion. So while those who spoke against allowing ROTC to return to campus were not shot at themselves, they seemed to be much more knowledgeable of facts on "the subject matter". That is not to say that the opinions of those supporting ROTC are not valid, nor that they should not be listened to, but the experience of a small number of highly successful veterans is not in any way representative of the armed forces as a whole, which is what the "self-righteous" speakers were trying to get at. I think senator Al Franken said it best "We are entitled to our own opinions; we are not entitled to our own facts." My overall point is this, instead of attacking students for being "self-righteous", let's put aside personal qualms and have a frank discussion, an open dialogue about peoples' experiences serving, as well as looking at (at least) the armed forces self-reported facts, if not those reported by non-partison organisations, and the historical record, then we can move forward with the decision of whether or not to allow ROTC to return (if the DoD will even want it to).

+1
-1
-1
Bu_dot_tt posted on

Great story. FYI - http://OutMilitary.com - the gay military network, is providing a supportive environment for friending, sharing and networking between Gay active military, vets and supporters.

+1
-1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Actually, some discriminations are allowed by law and Columbia's non-discrimination policy. A plain reading of the CU non-discrimination policy shows that only unlawful discrimination is barred. The question is whether the particular discrimination is lawful or unlawful. That makes sense because the university must discriminate: any area of the university that requires an entry standard separate from the general admissions standard (which is in and of itself discriminatory) is discriminating. The military's transgender policies are lawful and, therefore, cannot violate Columbia's non-discrimination policy. Whatever are one's feelings about the military's transgender policies, they are lawful.

However, from a legalistic viewpoint, DADT was also lawful and not barred by the CU non-discrimination policy. That a particular discrimination is lawful does not mean Columbia must condone it within the university. Columbia has discretion to determine whether a particular discrimination, even confined to a specific area, within the university is justified, as well as lawful.

I submit that whereas DADT was clearly unjustified - in fact, a premise of the law itself was that sexual orientation was not a bar to military service - the military's transgender policies are justifiable. Unlike DADT, the issues surrounding the military's transgender policies are complicated, nuanced, and murky at best. While one can argue that particular details of the military's transgender policies could be finer turned, it is far harder to argue the bases for the policies are unjustified.

The university's view of the justification of DADT should not determine the university's view of the justification of the military's transgender policies. It would be inappropriate and unbecoming of Columbia as an intellectual institution given the different bases of the two issues. As Learned Foote urged, I ask Columbia's decision-makers to understand the issues and controversies in depth before rendering judgement.

+1
+4
-1
Anonymous posted on

From what I heard last night, I fear that, for many people, if it's not one thing, it'll be another. If it's not DADT, it's that they don't let transgender people in. If it's not that, it's that were in an unfavorable war. It sounds as though these people just don't like the military, which is completely fine, but is not a legitimate reason to not have ROTC at Columbia. I thought for the most part it was a very civil and (if nothing else) interesting discussion. I agree with Foote on the fact checking for sure. And I won't sit here and say where I've been and all that like a lot of people did last night, but some very cliche things we're being thrown around about veterans and what the men and women of the military do overseas. A large group of the anti-ROTC group there last night where with (from what I gathered) LGBT or gay rights groups. For a group of individuals who have had to put up with the abuse that they have had to put up with in their youth to then vocalize such harsh words about a group of people who they know are present surprised me. Their opinions aside, it seems a lot of misinformation was thrown around which I think was the single biggest problem and should be fixed before next Tuesday. I also hope there is a little more proctoring. The discussion did, at times, get way off the questions we were given to discuss. People complained about what the military does overseas, yet the CIA is here recruiting all the time.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Keep in mind that the debate in front of you didn't matter in and of itself. It only matters as far as its impact on the university senators' votes, either directly or indirectly.

As far as the anti-ROTC people at Columbia today, you have to understand they are descendants and guardians of the 'Spirit of 68' that conquered ROTC 40 years ago. The absence of ROTC and the resulting civil-military gap at Columbia is their crown jewel, and they're not going to give up the status quo without fighting for what's theirs with the full fervor of their radical heritage. Their bottom line is keeping out ROTC, and they'll use any arguments, methods, and hapless pawns they deem useful to achieve their purpose.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

I appreciate your support for my argument, but please, we need to STOP making this an Us versus Them matter. We are all students of Columbia, and we are all citizens of America (at least while we are at Columbia and in New York, for some international students). We need to take a good look at our school, our country, and our military and decide what to do. I think no one, even those against ROTC, can argue that having Columbia grads in the officer ranks would hurt our country or our military. We need to talk about what is good for the school. This is my first year, and I won't pretend to know what is best for the entire institution. But I do have my opinion and will continue to voice it, and hope that everyone will be able to see eye to eye on it. I have not felt any anti-veteran hostility since I've arrived on campus, and hope that it doesn't happen any of the student-veterans. ROTC or no ROTC, I hope this remains the case. If the trade off for having ROTC is a campus where anti-vet animosity is prevalent, than I'd rather not have ROTC.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

I appreciate and understand where you're coming from ... more than you know.

But, I'm not "making this" anything. I observed. I went through this before and learned what's what and who's who. Whether ROTC returns to Columbia is a competition, with the winner decided by the University Senate as the judges.

As far as the situation on campus for Columbia's veterans, that's yours to control. I know what we have at Columbia as milvets is special, because I was part of the group of milvets who organized to build the foundation. We did what we did so those like us who would come to Columbia after us would not have to settle for any "trade off". As a Columbia milvet, you are empowered. Don't give away what we worked hard to give you.

+1
-1
-1
Anonymous posted on

To me, this is simple.

Pro Choice.

The University should allow students the choice to make a decision to be in ROTC or not.

Just because the University chooses to allow ROTC on campus is not a reflection of your own opinions. By supporting the ROTC ban, you are effectively preemptively aborting healthy U.S. servicemen and servicewomen.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

Malena Arnaud, BC ’11, was part of a group of students that brought a sign reading “The military preys on low-income communities.”

And they will continue to, with or without ROTC at Columbia. God forbid we let low-income ROTC students attend our ancient academy!!!

While we keep them off campus we might as well keep on pretending that our school isn't part of the military-industrial complex and that we're not all complicit in empire.

+1
-3
-1
Anonymous posted on

More hegemony than empire.

God forbid low-income students earn an Ivy League degree with the help of ROTC and then lead the most powerful military in the world. And God forbid middle-class or even rich Columbians join ROTC and also lead the military. Heck, the rich kids might even appreciate the scholarship.

+1
-2
-1
Anonymous posted on

Spectator readers who are opposed to the ROTC or NROTC's return to Columbia's campus in 2011, might be interested in also checking out the the website that anti-war students at Stanford recently set up at the following link:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/...

+1
-1
-1
Anonymous posted on

I don't go to Columbia and would not fit in well it appears becuase I am glad that we have the US armed forces protecting the right to have such discussions. You can argue prejudice, whether wars are warranted or not and any other ancillary issue but the fact is that our Armed forces ultimately protect your rights and freedoms.

I think the simple solution is to bring back the draft sans defferments, since DADT has been resolved having a draft without deferments would eleminate the argument for or against ROTC and whether the military preys on economically dissadvantaged or provides opportunitties. I am sure faced with a draft some would run or change their tunes. Protecting your country should be considered a privledge. I am sorry, those who have made a living being anti-american are hypocrits.

For all the mistakes this nation may have made since it's inception, slavery, wars, expansionism etc... No one wants to recognize the overwhelming positive impact we have made on the world. Are we perfect and have we made mistakes certainly, so did kids in the 60's that spit on soldiers when they came home from war. Soldiers, many of whom were drafted but honored their responsibility to their country. Kids, that probably had no political view other than to survive. Your heroes were the kids that spit, while the hereos that had to wash away blood, sweat and tears coming home from war only found themselved washing your spitul from their uniforms. Be very proud of your actions and stupidity.

+1
+1
-1