Letter: ROTC as a civil rights issue

Jan. 18, 2011, 12:15 a.m.

Dear Editor,

There is an unfortunate and embarrassing tendency in some corners of American politics for the slogans of the civil rights movement to be employed in service of almost any political goal. This is usually done by those who still don’t really understand the legal and moral basis of the movement, and their rationale is that “everyone thinks those slogans stand for irrefutable moral truths, so if we say that those slogans support our position, people will feel obliged to agree with us.”

A truly surprising and disgusting example of this sophistry was witnessed by all those who were present at the town hall meeting regarding ROTC last Tuesday. Incomprehensibly, the terms “separate but equal” and “busing” were used as part of an argument for ROTC’s return. It was also suggested that military-connected people are a “minority” and that the University should provide them with a “safe space on campus.” So as to avoid casting aspersions on all students who argued in support of ROTC, I should point out that a number of pro-ROTC students were shaking their heads in confusion and embarrassment while these arguments were being made.

The heart of the matter, if it even needs clarification, is that joining ROTC is an occupational decision. “Military-connectedness” is qualitatively different to “race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, [or] gender identity” (quoting from Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy) in the same way that “Google-connectedness” (i.e., being a former, current or future Google employee) is qualitatively different. The U.S. military is an employer. You may think it is the greatest employer on the face of the earth or you may think it is repugnant, but neither viewpoint is necessarily relevant to the question at hand: whether Stanford University, as an institution, should treat the U.S. military any differently from the way it treats other employers.

In effect, what those supporting ROTC’s return are arguing for is positive discrimination (in other words, “affirmative action”) on the basis of undergraduate students’ occupational decisions. When asked why all non-military employers located a similar distance from campus should not also be provided with on-campus facilities, the only way to defend ROTC’s return is to argue that Stanford should differentiate between military service and other types of employment in a way that defines military service as necessarily superior.

The argument that Stanford’s undergraduate students currently have convenient access to every possible occupational opportunity other than the U.S. military, and that ROTC should be brought back to campus in order to rectify this “inequality,” has an obvious flaw: Stanford’s students do not have convenient access to anything close to every occupational opportunity, and it would be impossible for the University to make it so. As the majority of the 1969 Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC recognized, Stanford cannot be all things to all people and, as a result, the provision of facilities in support of one group of students’ occupational decisions would constitute an institutional preference for that occupation above all others.

Sam Windley LL.M. ‘11

President, Stanford Says No to War

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