In a twist of Camus' words: "A free university can, of course, be good or bad, but most certainly, without freedom, the university will never be anything but bad." In a crucial, frightening vote on April 1, 2011, Columbia's University Senate voted 51 votes for and 17 against the implementation of ROTC on Campus. However, it seems that the majority of Columbia students are failing to see this as something more important than a mere spring prank. The polarizing of the University caused by the ROTC implementation, felt from that moment onwards, is already starting to lead to the slow decay of academic freedom on campus. The great achievement of the United States was to mold universities as universal havens of free speech, where all nationalities, specialties, social classes, and political ideologies were represented. One could learn about anything, say anything, think anything, ally with anyone. The only limit to this liberty was the impingement on others, i.e. the sacrosanct ideal of tolerance. The University, in its institutional structure, is a fundamentally transcendent concept, detached from every attachment. ROTC will result in the alienation of many students and faculty members at Columbia. The question is not, as many make it, a question of support of the American Army or of the military. Polarizing Columbia as a University violates its most fundamental value. The essence of the University is its students and its faculty. We are the University, we are its thinkers, and we are free to adopt whatever opinion we want. But the institution itself should be neutral. We are not to accept any ideology that is dictated to us. Whether we agree with ROTC or not is not the question. The board of the school should not be ideologically polarized, because this would only result in alienating a part of the University's students and its teachers who don't espouse particular views. This will result in a complete decaying of the University structure, as many students will feel overlooked and marginalized. Columbia's traditional tolerance toward the military—as it attracts many veterans in General Studies—should have stayed Columbia's standpoint. Such clauses as the grandfather clause that the Military Veterans are trying to add to revise the new GI Bill should crucially be enforced, to continue to allow veterans to attend a private university like Columbia for free. The military's education is primordial and it is crucial that veterans and future soldiers could be educated within Columbia. Nonetheless, neutrality should be the overarching quality that defines every institution of learning, and though all students should be welcome, the University should stay free of any attachment. Despite the fact that 60 percent of students voted for ROTC and only 33 percent opposed it, we should not let ourselves be victims of the tyranny of the majority, especially when there was such a high level of indifference going into the decision. Indeed there was a voice that we all forgot. The great minds of our world, many of which are faculty in our school, have been disregarded. Were they listened to by the Senate in their hasty decision? In a scintillating public statement published by Bwog, 5 percent of faculty were able to speak against ROTC. They declared that "In uniform, individuals are representatives of the military before all else, and their presence constitutes a symbolic militarization of campus." It is that polarization that we have to strive against. We trust them to educate us, so why not to teach us what is right? What a remarkable passivity has greeted the Senate's decision! Are you all so ready, fellow students, to bid farewell to unhindered thought? Are you all so quick to pick up the shovel to bury your own individuality, your cherished liberty? Columbia, are you so eager to bid farewell to Columbia? The author is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in philosophy. A previous version of the article misstated the percent of faculty that formally opposed ROTC. Spectator regrets the error.
Columbia Spectator Staff