Columbia, like many elite colleges in the country, banned the Reserve Officers' Training Corps on campus because of heavy opposition to the Vietnam War, and like at many elite institutions, it was never reinstated. But why hasn't it been brought back despite the end of the Vietnam War era and the antiwar movement? University President Lee Bollinger cites the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy as the reason, saying it violates Columbia's nondiscrimination policy. But is that really the whole reason? I think that the real objection to ROTC here is a fear of military presence on campus. It makes sense that students might be uncomfortable with an institution that sends our young men and women (but not the gay ones) off to die in unjust wars having a distinct place at our school. What doesn't make sense, however, is that these same students get to decide for the people who actually want to serve their country and fight in these wars whether or not they belong at Columbia. Needless to say, those who join ROTC want to be officers in the U.S. military. These young men and women see the military as their calling, just as other Columbia students might see being investment bankers on Wall Street as their own. ROTC provides students with a free education in exchange for four years of service. By excluding this program, Columbia excludes many potential students who are willing to pay the price of military service instead of a $200,000 four-year tuition. Why should a bunch of mostly left-wing college students with, let's face it, very little world experience prevent these potential students from pursuing their goals? They shouldn't. And they clearly haven't prevented the handful of Barnard, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Columbia College students who go to Fordham for ROTC from doing what they want to do. I applaud the efforts of these students who go well out of their way to follow their ambitions, but if ROTC was brought back to campus, they wouldn't have to go out of their way at all. Not only would these students have much less of a hassle balancing school and officer training, but the change would also, in my opinion, be a breath of fresh air. Why would ROTC be a relief? Because we need some diversity here. What we have now is a majority of naively liberal kids who all seem to be from California and the tri-state area. If we had ROTC on campus again, there would almost definitely be a stronger presence of students from the middle states, which would be such a relief from what sometimes seems to be an overwhelming single-mindedness of the super-liberal coasts. Maybe students would take issue with marching on campus and drills on the lawn, but that's a small price to pay for something that could very much enliven the community. There would definitely be much greater diversity of perspective with these students on campus. Having an ROTC student in a class could add so much more to a discussion than does the usual assortment in our classes. That being said, some of the brightest and most driven students in many of my classes, in my experience, have been veterans of the armed forces. Not only will bringing ROTC back to campus allow for more opportunities for more students, but it will also add a diversity of opinion that we could really use. It could give many students the chance to get a superior education at no cost to them, and shouldn't we as Columbia students be proud to put Columbia-educated officers into our military? Hopefully "don't ask, don't tell" will be repealed soon, and hopefully the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end soon as well. Until then, however, I think that the best support we at Columbia can show is to welcome and accept the men and women who fight for our country. The best way to do that is to welcome the finest and brightest of them onto our campus as officers in training. The author is a Barnard College junior majoring in English and religion.
Columbia Spectator Staff