ROTC debate comes to Undergraduate Senate

Jan. 26, 2011, 2:02 a.m.

The ASSU Undergraduate Senate heard from representatives of the Faculty Senate’s ad hoc committee on ROTC at its weekly meeting Tuesday evening and discussed the issue of ROTC’s possible return to campus.

Student representatives from Stanford Says No to War and Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL) attended and contributed to the debate.

“It’s your party,” said psychology professor Ewart Thomas, chair of the ad hoc committee on ROTC, welcoming questions from the senators.

Thomas outlined some of the central issues surrounding ROTC’s potential return to campus, such as academic freedom and academic quality for ROTC students.

Holding a copy of the San Jose Mercury News, Thomas referenced a Jan. 24 opinion piece by Stephen Zunes, a politics professor at the University of San Francisco. Zunes said he takes issue with a Dec. 8 ROTC memo prohibiting student use of classified information from WikiLeaks for course assignments, a policy he regards as sacrificing academic freedom.

“What this looks like is, censorship could be imposed on a class that Stanford has a hand in managing,” Thomas said. “This, I think, would be problematic.”

Sam Windley L.L.M. ’11, president of Stanford Says No to War, also commented on the opinion, describing “a slippery slope” when a university allows an outside institution, such as the military, to determine what is appropriate course material.

“Academic freedom is something Stanford should, and does, place a lot of emphasis on,” Windley said.

“This is an issue affecting us in a larger context than just ROTC,” said Hester Gelber, committee member and professor of religious studies, in reference to students interested in diplomacy careers being advised to avoid looking at WikiLeaks documents.

Senator Ben Jensen ’12 raised the issue of class disparity in military service and referenced his own experience. He weighed a career in the Air Force against coming to Stanford.

“Stanford students are going to be future leaders of the country and the world,” Jensen said. “I hope there’s a careful eye in the way that we look at this.”

Committee members said open discourse with the Stanford community will inform their final decision.

“The issue of discrimination has been front and center,” said Eamonn Callan, committee member and education professor.

“The fact-finding phase is a phase during which we have a responsibility to keep an open mind,” Callan added when asked more specifically about the committee’s findings thus far. “It’s our responsibility to listen, and that’s why we’re here tonight.”

Senator Juany Torres ’13 quoted President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, when he said, “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love, and with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.”

Gelber said the president’s remarks reflect the “university grappling with changing perspectives,” along with the country as a whole.

Janani Balasubramanian ’12 of SSQL later questioned whether Obama’s “one nation” includes those who are transgender.

Student representatives from SSQL raised the issue of military discrimination against transgender individuals.

“We feel that bringing back ROTC, a program that specifically says transgender people are not allowed, is a violation of [the University’s] non-discrimination policy,” Balasubramanian said.

“We are appalled at how this debate is being moved away from an issue of discrimination, which it fundamentally is,” said Alok Vaid-Menon ’13, president of SSQL.

Gelber urged the senators to remember that there will be “some pain for some constituencies” passionate about ROTC regardless of the committee’s findings.

The committee is expected to report is findings in May.

The Senate passed two bills Tuesday evening, one to expand the responsibilities of the Communications Committee to include technology and another altering the conflict-of-interests section in the Senate rules of order, no longer requiring senators to report their officer titles in student groups but accepting membership as a bar to assess conflicts of interest.

All funding bills for the evening were passed.

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