In recent months, a small but vocal group of students has been working to raise student awareness about the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Its goal is to reinstate ROTC on Columbia's campus after the University eliminated the program in 1969.
The movement is working against more than 34 years of anti-ROTC sentiment on campus. Now it is also working against a group of students that say ROTC policies violate the rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual volunteers.
Last Wednesday members of the pro-ROTC groups Students United for America and the Independent Committee for ROTC attended the meetings of all four of the undergraduate class councils and hosted a forum to raise awareness about ROTC. The program's supporters have also been writing columns opinion for Spectator, circulating a petition, and manning an information table on College Walk.
"There's a plethora of information out there. Basically we're just trying to get a public campaign out," said Jennifer Thorpe, CC '05, president of Students United for America and a Spectator columnist. "We've been trying to present opinions that are against it and say why those opinions aren't right."
Although organized opposition to the movement has been minimal as of yet, certain groups and individuals have written letters, staged a small protest, and raised questions about ROTC and its place in the Columbia community during SU4A presentations.
The supporters of ROTC also met with opposition last week from anti-homophobia groups present at an SGA meeting where the ROTC supporters were giving a presentation. Members of Q, the Barnard Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer association, came to the meeting to raise awareness and protest the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the American military.
Led by Julian Scheff, BC '05, students distributed a fact sheet about discrimination against homosexuals. They also asserted that the positions of the ROTC do not represent the views of most Columbia students.
Members of queer advocacy groups across campus say they object to the ROTC because the "Don't Ask" rule violates Columbia's anti-discrimination policy. On other American campuses, ROTC groups are the only campus-affiliated organizations that can legally discriminate against students who are openly gay or bisexual.
ROTC supporters such as Eric Chen, GS '04, note that the "Don't Ask" policy was not in place 34 years ago and had nothing to do with the decision to eliminate the ROTC program. According to Chen, a Spectator columnist, the policy should therefore not be involved in the decision to bring it back.
Chen also noted that the policy is federal law. Therefore, he said, it does not directly represent the views of all sectors of the military. Chen said he personally supports a healthy dialogue about discrimination between the queer advocacy groups and pro-ROTC organizations.
"We've tried to reach out," Chen said. "At Barnard I thought [the exchange between groups] was very positive. It opened a dialogue."
Queer advocacy groups make up only a small part of the opposition to reinstatement of ROTC. They are joined by anti-military organizations and people who oppose logistical elements of the program, such as the power it gives the military to oversee program planning for ROTC's participants.
Despite their strong feelings on the matter, these groups have not yet waged much organized protest against the proposal to bring back the ROTC program.
"We have better things to do with our time than undo games that were already won thirty years ago," said Michael Castleman, SEAS '03 and treasurer of the Columbia Student Solidarity Network.
Chen called the opposition groups the "usual suspects," in reference to such anti-war organizations as the Spartacus Youth Club and various other groups under the umbrella of the Solidarity Network.
"They have an ideological opposition to military in general," Chen said. "They view what we're about as a conspiracy to bring the military back. That's a little disappointing."
Despite the strong views of those both in support of and opposed to the ROTC, the majority of the students on campus are unaware of the issues. The pro-ROTC group hopes to make the movement a serious consideration among student governing organizations.
At University Senate meeting on Friday, Bollinger made clear that any reinstatement of ROTC will have to begin at the student level, not the administrative level.
"I think this is something that if there are a significant number of people in the community who want to make this an issue, we should take it up," Bollinger said. "I don't think this is something that should come from the top."