Updated, Sunday, 11:45 p.m.
The chair of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps advisory committee briefed the University Senate on Friday on the ongoing implementation of Columbia’s Naval ROTC program, which has enrolled four students so far.
The senate voted in April 2011 to allow NROTC to return to campus, 42 years after it had last been recognized by the University. The presentation by mechanical engineering professor Jeffrey Kysar at Friday’s senate plenary was the first chance for senators to learn more about the implementation of the program.
“We’ve had many students over the years that have wanted to pursue careers in the military, and now, with the agreement for NROTC, they can now do it formally on campus,” Kysar said.
The NROTC agreement signed by University President Lee Bollinger and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in May 2011 “left many details to be filled in,” Kysar said. Still, the agreement establishes a basic framework through which undergraduates can enroll at Columbia as NROTC Of the four students enrolled in NROTC, three are in the School of General Studies and one is a Columbia College first-year. Those students will receive academic credit at Columbia for at least one of their NROTC classes, although Kysar said the details of how to transfer the remaining credits are still being worked out.
Relevant NROTC administrators from SUNY Maritime have been given administrative appointments at Columbia and have started holding office hours in the new NROTC office on the first floor of Lerner Hall, according to Kysar.
Also at the plenary, Bollinger discussed the United States’ Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case challenging the use of affirmative action by universities. Bollinger was the defendant in two landmark 2003 Supreme Court cases establishing the right of universities to take race and ethnicity into account during the admissions process, and he said that if the court overrules its previous decision, it “would have very, very significant effects on the diversity of our student population.”
“I’ve done a lot of work over my life on this issue, and one of the things that I have learned that is a very, very important fact is that if you want that racial and ethnic diversity in your school in the ways which we’ve thought about ... you will not get it by alternative policies like giving extra credit or extra points to socioeconomic status or other things,” Bollinger said.
While some have proposed that universities use zip codes and high schools in an attempt to determine students’ races if the Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action, Bollinger said that this would be both illegal and unjust.
“If the Supreme Court rules that it is unconstitutional to consider race or ethnicity in admissions, then the only right and proper result is for everyone to follow that and not consider those things,” Bollinger said. “And that’s because we believe in the fundamental code of law and we believe in the Constitution as the profound statement of what this society lives for.”
Columbia and many of its peer institutions have filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, arguing that affirmative action is the only way to ensure what Bollinger called a “critical mass” of diverse students on campus. He added that no other factor, socioeconomic or otherwise, has been shown to produce as much diversity at schools as affirmative action based on race and ethnicity.
Additionally, orthopedic surgery professor Francis Lee presented to the senate the findings of a task force studying the smoking policy on the Morningside Heights and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory campuses. Lee, a co-chair of the task force, said the group concluded that the senate-approved ban on smoking within 20 feet of buildings on campus has been largely ignored in the two years since it was implemented.