Faculty discuss academic merit of ROTC classes

Jan. 14, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

Academics took a front seat at Thursday’s two-hour faculty and staff discussion about ROTC, where about 30 attendees departed from Tuesday’s student town-hall conversation focused on discrimination in the military.

Psychology professor Ewart Thomas, chair of the Faculty Senate’s ad hoc committee studying ROTC’s possible return, opened the discussion before history professor Barton Bernstein asked for clarification on Stanford’s current relationship with ROTC.

Faculty discuss academic merit of ROTC classes
The major concern for professors present at Thursday's meeting on the status of ROTC courses at Stanford was that including these classes in the University's curriculum would require students to declare a major when they enroll--violating school's emphasis on academic exploration. (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily)

“We do have ROTC students in our midst,” Thomas said. “Stanford students are ROTC cadets.” Those students must commute to UC-Berkeley, San Jose State University or Santa Clara University to participate in the program.

Bernstein also asked whether any ROTC courses are taught on campus today, pointing out a military science course that is listed in the bulletin. Navy ROTC cadet and committee member Akhil Iyer ’11 explained that a leadership course required of freshman and sophomore cadets is “held informally at Tresidder,” but is not taught by Stanford professors and cannot be taken for Stanford or transfer credit.

“The purpose of the class is usually that [younger cadets] usually don’t have cars, and don’t have the means for themselves to go to a freshman-sophomore class at Santa Clara,” Iyer said. “It’s more of a convenience factor.”

Professors and committee members then proceeded to address the academic merit of ROTC courses, which was the ultimate reason Stanford booted off campus in the early 1970s amid anti-Vietnam War turmoil.

“My politics of anti-war and anti-militarism lean in the same direction with my ideas about undergraduate education,” said Todd Davies, associate director of Symbolic Systems.

“The debate may lie whether Stanford should move forward with an explicit policy of approving credit for these courses and appointment of instructors,” he added. “I’m opposed to that move.”

Much of the concern is rooted in that certain ROTC programs would require cadets to enter the University with a predetermined major, which could conflict with Stanford’s emphasis on academic exploration. Those who receive ROTC scholarships could also be penalized for not fulfilling their service requirements, a move that amounts to “financial coercion” of students, one professor said.

Political science professor Scott Sagan said the committee conducted “extensive research” of the ROTC program and its administration at M.I.T. in order to better understand how universities treat the issue of course credit.

“There is a range of accreditation and relationships between ROTC trainers and a range of views within different universities regarding credit,” Sagan said.

He said that a faculty committee at M.I.T. “reviews the curriculum and the qualifications of the visiting lecturers or professors that are nominated by the services to teach an ROTC course on campus.” If considered well-qualified, a speaker is given a two-year appointment.

Committee member Imani Frankin ’13 added that these courses are open to students not enrolled in ROTC, as would be the case if Stanford chooses to again recognize ROTC.

“We would encourage those courses that allow for collaboration between ROTC and non-ROTC students,” she said. “I think that’s the value of bringing back ROTC.”

Bernstein described his own experience with ROTC, in which he participated for two years during the 1950s. He described it as academically unchallenging.

“No academic experience I’ve had in America has been as wretched as that was,” he said.

Bernstein urged an examination of military courses syllabi to see how the current courses compare to Stanford’s academic standards.

“It would give a good sense of what would be forthcoming,” he said. “If ROTC emulates West Point and Annapolis in its textbooks, then there’s a good chance many courses will be certified.”

Iyer related some of his personal experiences, including his commute to Berkeley for training and for his required military-science courses.

“Nowadays, the idea is that any officer has the same type of training regardless of school attended,” he said. Many of the classes, books, resources for NROTC are “pretty similar to those found at West Point, and in my experience I’ve learned a lot and more as an upperclassman. The classes are a little easy, but still a challenge because the idea is to learn things in a stressful environment.”

Thomas said the committee would consider the viewpoints faculty raised Thursday and acknowledged: “We have a lot of work to do.”

The committee is expected to report to the Faculty Senate in May.

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