Op-Ed: ROTC — Provost Etchemendy, Open, Not Close The Doors To Dissent!

Opinion by and
May 11, 2011, 12:27 a.m.

Last Thursday, a week after the Faculty Senate’s controversial decision to support the reinstatement of ROTC at Stanford, Provost John Etchemendy issued an op-ed directed at students who felt the decision condoned prejudice against transgender people. While reaching out to the student body was a commendable action in itself, Etchemendy’s taking sides with the pro-return camp, then undemocratically calling for an end to the anger of the anti-return camp without addressing their additional frustrations, sends a message that Stanford’s administration does not respect the rights of the students to oppose decisions made by the administration.

Provost Etchemendy attempts to reach out to the anti-return community saying, “It took great courage for our transgender students to publicly express their opposition to ROTC.” Etchemendy, however, follows this with a contradictory assessment of those opposed to ROTC’s return, saying, “It continues to trouble me that any student would interpret the ROTC decision as a sign that the University does not honor and respect its transgender students, faculty and staff.”

After reading such a bold statement, I was hoping for Provost Etchemendy to defend it — namely, by addressing the lingering concerns of the transgender population on campus. Etchemendy, rather than doing this, simply tells the opposition to stop being so angry at the administration because “whichever way the decision went, it would be interpreted by some members of the community as a sign…that their interests, feelings and principles were somehow less important,” i.e. because the decision was hard. This shows disrespect toward transgender people who are understandably upset when they see what appears to them as Stanford condoning sexual discrimination and institutionalizing it for the long haul by supporting a group that represents the perpetrators of sexual discrimination. Note that I say, “what appears to them.” Even though this topic is by no means clear, Etchemendy must do more to show respect for the gravity of the issue, discrimination, or else the all of LGBT community, all members of some racial or non-racial minority group and the rest of the Stanford population are threatened in their right to have respectful, emotional and anti-administrative discourse. By making an ill-conceived attempt to quiet the debate by asking students to bow down to faculty and administrative decisions, Provost Etchemendy manifests a false notion that the administration of Stanford has moral supremacy over its students — that in the face of dissent, the administration reigns.

Provost Etchemendy, as a leading administrator and an incredibly intelligent individual, should be aware of and able to address the additional concerns of the transgender population. Instead, Etchemendy falls rank-and-file behind faculty senators who “were swayed by the hope that as more military leaders are drawn from communities like ours…the more quickly any remaining discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity will genuinely cease,” then simply says, “I hope that is true.” His blind hope leaves open the unanswered questions that lie at the root of the continued frustration. What reason have we to believe that by training future military leaders in a liberal institution that those leaders will not be forced to conform once they reach the military? That ROTC itself does not reinforce the discriminative? That our “liberal” institution, which fails to truly listen to all the concerns of the transgender population, will ingrain in future leaders here the values they need to stand up to years and years of established discrimination in the military? By not attempting to assuage these concerns, Etchemendy effectively says that students’ concerns come second to the prerogatives of the institution, and that the administrators of this school, rather than offering their incredible perspective to enlighten all students on the intricacies of these controversial topics, will choose to evade dissent.

Provost Etchemendy ends his op-ed with a plea to the transgender population and their allies, saying, “Our community is far from perfect, but it is remarkably accepting. Let us use this opportunity to reaffirm our values and to strengthen our community.” To you, Provost Etchemendy, I return this plea, asking you to take another brave step from what you’ve already done, and address the lingering concerns of the transgender population and their supporters. Our community of students is not perfectly wise in our views. However, our community of students, willing to stand up to what we see as discrimination, is remarkably accepting. If you have the courage to address our reasonable reservations then we will change the tone of our dissent and work with you more collaboratively. We want the opportunity to stand in equity with the administration in strengthening the values of this institution, so that future generations of Stanford students can promote a well thought-out set of values in the institutions they are destined to lead. We will not, however, accept any call for passivity, for servility or for weakness in doing so.


Jonathan Poto, ‘13


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