Ever since the 1969 student riots, Columbia has not had a Reserve Officer Training Corps program. While we are not by any stretch of the imagination "pro-military," and are adamantly opposed to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, we believe there are substantive reasons for returning ROTC to campus.
With ROTC providing more than 60 percent of the military's officers, it is important to consider the effects that the program could have on both Columbia and the U.S. armed services.
Since Vietnam, when many liberals parted ways with the military, the composition of the officer corps has changed dramatically. Today's numbers show that the military is conservative and not representative of the nation as whole, and is especially lacking in the top-tier university-educated student-officers that once filled its ranks.
Reintroducing ROTC at Columbia will help increase the diversity of views and beliefs both here on campus, and eventually in the armed services as well. If Columbia does not allow ROTC to return to campus, its goals and those of the military will continue to diverge, and their future will be one of an ever-increasing disconnect.
Like most socially aware Columbia students, we continue to worry about the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. But that injustice will never be corrected if officers continue to come only from conservative campuses. To stamp out that ugly, conspicuous hate, the nation's officer corps needs progressives. It needs liberals. It needs Columbians.
Progress has never come from ducking the fight. We don't want ROTC to return to campus so we can cheer the military's policies; quite the opposite--we want ROTC back so we can change them, however incrementally. We need to insert gay rights advocates into the equation, not keep them out.
Many students also oppose ROTC because of a general opposition to U.S. military action. But disagreeing with the politics of likely members isn't a valid reason to veto their presence. Wouldn't we criticize a predominantly conservative campus for excluding a pro-choice organization?
It goes against core principles to oppose a conservative group simply because it is conservative. We should strive for vibrant campus debate, not consensus. After all, not all U.S. News darlings have shut out ROTC--programs at Northwestern and Cornell are thriving, with the citizen soldiers actively involving themselves in student life. Obviously, not everyone at these schools, or, for that matter, at Columbia, supports the actions of the U.S. military, but it is important to make a distinction between the officers who come out of ROTC programs and the politicians in Washington who make the decisions to wage war. An MIT task force on the issue identified the importance of ROTC programs producing citizen soldiers "who have been trained at a wide variety of civilian institutions."
Also, consider that for low-income students, the ROTC is an excellent source of financial aid and a guaranteed career track. We don't want to deprive the underprivileged of a means to get to campus, and beyond.
If socially conscious Columbians want to see the military moderate its conservative views and its approach to international conflict, the best way to do so is by reintroducing ROTC at Columbia.