Letter: ROTC: Lift the ban, but don’t hold your breath

Jan. 25, 2011, 12:10 a.m.

Dear Editor,

Despite the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), support for Stanford’s ban on ROTC persists in predictable quarters on campus. The arguments in favor of such a ban are no better than those advanced some four decades ago.

Military science courses, we are told, lack academic rigor. This is news to midshipmen at Naval ROTC Berkeley, who are required to study ship systems and engineering, courses far more challenging than, say, PWR. The claim that ROTC instructors aren’t qualified is equally ludicrous. Professors without doctorates can be found across campus; accomplished military officers teaching courses about the military is little different than successful executives and practicing lawyers lecturing at GSB and the law school.

ROTC, we are warned, violates academic freedom by forcing students into certain careers with certain employers and restricting their majors. But nobody is forced to join, the rules and expectations are made clear from the start, and there is a dropout procedure. It never seems to occur to ROTC critics that students might sincerely desire to be military officers. The mistake is to view the U.S. military as simply another employer, not worthy of any special recognition.

Finally, the latest line of attack is the military’s ban of transgender individuals. This gives little pause to those who felt the ROTC prohibition was foolish to begin with, but for others who insisted on a repeal of DADT prior to lifting the ban on ROTC, it’s a thornier problem. It’s also a canard. Even if the transgender ban were removed, ROTC opponents would still find an objection. They might insist that ROTC stay banned until the first female is appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs, for example, or until nuclear weapons are eliminated.

The ban on ROTC, then, should be repealed because common sense and patriotic decency demand that Stanford permits its return to campus. But lifting the ban is only the beginning. Proponents of ROTC underestimate how difficult it may be.

For starters, the enormous endowment means few students really need the money anymore. It also provides all sorts of opportunities for undergraduates to take full advantage of the college experience, from funded research projects to overseas travel. With programs like direct commissioning, Officer Candidate School for the Army and Navy or Officer Training School for the Air Force, students interested in the military have many possible pathways into the services after graduation, permitting them personal and academic flexibility during their time on the Farm.

The Berkeley Naval ROTC unit can muster some 60 students from four different schools, including UC-Davis. Just a handful hail from Stanford. Whether the Defense Department will find a critical mass of interested Cardinal remains to be seen. Elite academia, including the Ivy League and Stanford, banned ROTC some 40 years ago, setting them on paths that diverged widely from the military. The question is whether this chasm has narrowed since then. I fear it has only widened.

Tristan Abbey ’08

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