Updated, Monday 1:45 a.m.
A clear majority of students who answered a University Senate survey support ROTC’s return to Columbia, but numbers released Friday paint a more complex picture of student opinion—showing significant differences between schools and concern about discrimination in the military.
Sixty percent of students who filled out the eight-question survey said they would support a return of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to Columbia. GS, SIPA, and SEAS students overwhelmingly favored ROTC’s return, by margins of 71-23, 66-28, and 70-23, respectively. A majority of CC students supported ROTC as well, but by a narrower margin of 59 percent in support to 35 percent in opposition.
The survey was sent to students in Columbia College, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of General Studies, Barnard College, and the School of International and Public Affairs.
Barnard was the only school to oppose ROTC. Forty-seven percent of Barnard students said they would disapprove of ROTC’s return, while 42 percent said they would approve of it.
Astronomy professor James Applegate, an ROTC supporter and a member of the senate task force that conducted the survey, said he had thought the survey would show majority approval of ROTC, although he expected it to garner more than 60 percent support.
“I lost a sandwich on a bet, I thought it [ROTC support] would be a bit bigger,” he said. “My guess was 75 percent.”
The survey also asked respondents whether they support military practices in light of Columbia’s nondiscrimination policy. Many have said that ROTC would violate Columbia’s nondiscrimination policy because the military bars transgendered individuals from serving.
Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed were either unsupportive or somewhat unsupportive of the military in the context of Columbia’s nondiscrimination policy, compared to 37 percent who were supportive or somewhat supportive. Thirteen percent said they were neither supportive nor unsupportive, and 11 percent had no opinion.
Avi Edelman, CC ’11 and president of Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, who has spoken out against ROTC’s return on the grounds that the program is discriminatory, said he was encouraged by these results.
“There is a recognition on campus that there are some fundamental incompatibilities with our nondiscrimination policy,” Edelman said.
These results, too, were divided by school, with pluralities of students in SEAS, SIPA, and GS supportive or somewhat supportive, and pluralities of students in CC and Barnard unsupportive or somewhat unsupportive.
PARTICIPATION AND IDENTITY
The survey had a 19 percent participation rate overall, but this number varied from school to school. CC had the highest participation rate at 25 percent, and SIPA had the lowest participation rate at 11 percent.
Columbia Queer Alliance president Sean Udell, president of the class of 2011 and an ROTC opponent, said that the poll’s low participation rate renders it meaningless.
“All that says then, is that the survey is entirely irrelevant statistically, and in all other ways,” he said.
Only 307 students in GS—which is home to about 150 military veterans—voted in the survey, for a participation rate of 15 percent. This was the second-lowest participation rate among the five schools surveyed.
Brendan Rooney, GS and the president of Columbia’s Military Veterans group, said it is possible many GS students did not respond to the survey because they did not know about it. Rooney said that he himself did not fill out the survey, because he never saw the email containing the link to it.
“I didn’t see that survey, in all honesty,” Rooney said. “I don’t know, maybe it got put into my spam box, or maybe I just missed it.”
The task force released these numbers Friday in a report documenting opinions on ROTC. The senate report also included a list of statements which task force members unanimously endorsed, including the statement that, “Our current relationships with the military enrich the Columbia community.” Several hundred veterans are enrolled at Columbia, and GS participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, a financial aid program for veterans.
“People felt as though generally Columbia’s relationship with the military is one that is positive, and one that we would not want to change,” task force co-chair Ron Mazor, CC ’09, Law ’12, said.
Forty percent of survey respondents said that Columbia’s current relationship with the military supports or somewhat supports Columbia’s identity, and 24 percent said it neither supports nor detracts from Columbia’s identity. Thirty-five percent said the relationship detracts or somewhat detracts from Columbia’s identity.
The task force also received 113 emails about ROTC, 65 from students, 28 from faculty and staff, and 20 from alumni. Eighty-eight of the emails expressed support for ROTC, and 25 expressed opposition.
The University Senate began debating the question of whether to invite ROTC back to Columbia at its full body meeting Friday afternoon. The co-chairs of the task force, which also hosted three town hall meetings on ROTC, summarized their findings and then took questions.
Several faculty members expressed concern that the task force had not provided details of how an ROTC program at Columbia would be structured, saying it was unclear who would be responsible for creating an ROTC curriculum and how professors for an ROTC program would be appointed.
Task force co-chair Roosevelt Montas, CC ’95, MA ’96, PhD ’04, and associate dean for the core curriculum, told concerned senators that Columbia would control the structure of the program, a statement echoed in the task force’s report.
“Academic appointment and course credit must remain under complete control of the faculty of Columbia, and never under ROTC or the military,” Montas said. “So every subsequent discussion of the issue has had that as an assumption, as a premise.”
At one point during the meeting, MilVets President Rooney—who is not a senator—attempted to speak, at which point several senators objected. Senate rules require unanimous consent for a non-senator to be allowed to speak.
Applegate said he was very surprised that Rooney was denied unanimous consent.
“That’s the first time in 15 years in the senate I’ve ever seen someone denied unanimous consent,” Applegate said. “That is unusual.”
Rooney said later that not being allowed to speak was “a little disturbing.” He said he might have understood being denied unanimous consent if he had previously expressed a strong point of view on ROTC, but he noted that MilVets has declined to take a stance on the issue.
University senator Tim Qin, SEAS ’13, said he was one of the senators who did not give consent for Rooney to speak. He explained that in his mind, allowing one non-senator to speak might have led to many non-senators speaking. There were more observers than usual present at the meeting.
“If you let one person speak, it would be unfair to not let other people speak,” Qin said. “And that just brings a whole host of problems.”
Applegate noted that in 2005, each University Senate debate on ROTC began with an agreement of unanimous consent to let non-senators speak. He plans to suggest that this policy be followed in future University Senate ROTC debates, he said.
Those final debates will take place in April. The senate meets April 1 and April 29, and will almost certainly vote on an ROTC resolution at one of these meetings.
Qin said he would vote based on the opinions of SEAS students—his constituents. But despite the survey results showing a large majority of SEAS students in support of ROTC, Qin said he has not made up his mind yet.
“The way I approached this issue was not to let any of my personal considerations … color the way I approached it,” he said.
Qin said he will reach out to SEAS students to hear their opinions over the next month, partially through the Engineering Student Council.
Barnard senator Sara Snedeker, BC ’12, said it is “extremely important” that Barnard was the only school to have a plurality disapprove of an ROTC return to Columbia. But she also noted that only 17 percent of Barnard students took part in the survey.
“The results of this survey will certainly have an influence on how I will ultimately decide to vote,” Snedeker said in an email. “At the same time, I would like to emphasize that this was a survey, not a poll. Although the results of the survey have substantial weight, it is not the only important part of this debate.”
Udell said that regardless of the results of the poll, Columbia’s nondiscrimination policy should prevent ROTC from coming back. He noted that when a 2003 poll of CC students showed 65 percent favored ROTC’s return, the administration chose not to follow the results because the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prevented gays from serving openly, was still in place.
“Nothing had changed in my mind, because the military still discriminates,” Udell said. “So I would hope that the administration uses that same judgment.”
Applegate, too, said the survey numbers should not be the determining factors in senators’ decisions. While the survey results and the balance of emails largely supported his pro-ROTC point of view, he said it’s up to every senator to look at the evidence and make up his or her own mind.
“I don’t think the senate has the obligation … to vote the way a survey goes, or vote the way an email goes,” Applegate said. “This is something with which one votes one’s conscience.”