Op-Ed: ROTC at Stanford, Past and Present

Opinion by and
April 27, 2011, 12:25 a.m.

The state that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools– Thucydides.

I won’t give my body to the war-David Harris, student body president 1966-7.

An Air Force brat born and raised, I am uniquely interested in the debate before the Faculty Senate on Thursday, but as one who’s also parsed dusty reports from our special collections, I see a bizarre reflection of today’s decision in our past. Where now we fight two (three?) wars with scant ado, then we witnessed the burning of draft cards, student and faculty protests, sit-ins, guerrilla theatre, vandalism and violent sentiment.

And yet, the decision before the Faculty Senate today bears little change from that facing the University in June of 1970 — when by a vote of 439-282-293 (affirm-against-abstain) they confirmed the Senate’s decision to terminate academic credit for ROTC. Their choice was not “to kick out ROTC” just as today’s is not to “bring back ROTC;” rather, on each occasion the faculty of an educational institution formally define its relationship with our nation’s civic and military establishments.

In the decade prior to the first ROTC debate, the faculty had doubled in number to accommodate students of the “Cold War University.” In this time, the student body grew by a third, while private leases of Stanford’s land and a deluge of federal funding for science, technology and defense trebled its operating budget (and built such facilities as the Dish and SLAC). With this swift and increasingly unmanageable growth came the creation of the Faculty Senate in 1968 and subsequent devolution of power over academic affairs.

At the time of the decision, the Vietnam era had steadily eroded the ROTC’s enrollment (from 1100 students in 1956 to 346 in 1970), and the program had been in contention with some faculty for years. Prominent alumnus David Packard served as deputy secretary of defense, and Vice Provost E. Howard Brooks, who had served on a Defense Department Committee on ROTC in September of 1969, was under consideration for a position in the department. The University had signed contracts with each of the military branches represented, and had (by statute) accorded some faculty status and academic credit to the instructor/commanders and their courses.

However, deliberations and negotiations over ROTC’s status came to a sharp point following news of the invasion of Cambodia on April 29, 1970. Demonstrations erupted over the war, and violent protests were met with the first use of tear gas on campus. On April 30, President Pitzer asked the Faculty Senate to consider “the ROTC question,” the Academic Council met May 1, and just three days after the shooting at Kent State the Faculty Senate moved to terminate credit for ROTC. In the quiet of June, the Senate and Academic Council finalized their decision.

Stanford has none of this urgency today. There is no draft, and elite schools tend not to populate the military’s peculiar meritocracy. With wars afoot, we see no riotous protests or groundswell of patriotism on campus — at best, Measure A registered our pointed abstention. Tellingly, these poll numbers remind us of our past: compare Measure A’s support of 2,406-929-2,117 (44 percent affirm, 17 percent against, 39 percent abstain) out of 19,535 students (30 percent turnout), to a pro-ROTC referendum taken February 1969 before the exigencies of Cambodia and Kent State — 2,106-1,397 (60 percent affirm, 40 percent against) out of 11,400 students (also 30 percent turnout).

In truth, the decision about ROTC remains a matter of definition. As discussed by the Mann Commission in June of 1970, it was then unacceptable to a plurality of faculty that the program be accorded academic standing, that its cadets be threatened with punitive enlistment should they leave, that the purposes of the military and University were in fundamental conflict and that ROTC’s curriculum and student policies infringed on the University’s autonomy. Today, we debate the censorship of Wikileaks from cadets, exclusion of transgender students and the need for institutional aid if a cadet should lose her scholarship. All this has changed, but this moment has not: the clarification of our institution’s relationship with the national establishment.


Milton Solorzano, ‘07

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