USenate Discusses ROTC Report
Written by Bwog Staff
The University Senate met from 1:15 pm to 2:20 pm this afternoon, in 107 Jerome Greene to discuss finances, smoking bans, and the ROTC Task Force’s full report, released today. Bwog’s Military Engagement Bureau Chief Conor Skelding was there to hear what they had to say, watch them check Facebook, and fold their arms to signify dissatisfaction.
PrezBo started the meeting with a review of the school’s current financial situation. The recession has hurt us less than peer institutions, and among all endowments greater than $1 billion, ours grew fastest over the last fiscal year. The Senate then squabbled about a GS student who was filming the meeting for a documentary, with permission. Several senators, including Ron Mazor, pointed out that students at the ROTC town halls had expressed concerns about openness. After a few speeches, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to allow the camera to stay.
After some discussion of conflicts of interest in current research and the possibility of a full smoking ban on campus, Ron Mazor stood with Roosevelt Montás to present the Task Force’s findings regarding military engagement. Montás first addressed the media attention, which he called “primarily negative and sensationally distorted.” He called the recommendations of the Task Force “mild.”
Montás called on the Senate to “begin serious deliberation on the return of the ROTC.” He discussed the survey, which he stressed “was not a vote.” He noted that the survey was limited to students in CC, SEAS, GS, SIPA, and Barnard because it “was not within the practical power of the Task Force to open the survey to the entire Columbia community.” Of the 19% of eligible students who filled out the survey, 60% approved of ROTC’s return, and 33% disapproved. Montás called the margin “unambiguous.”
Mazor then presented the full report. He added that the report included all email submissions, transcripts from all hearings, and a more specific breakdown of survey results, including by specific schools. The breakdown: “SIPA was 66% in favor, GS 71%, SEAS 70%, and CC 59%. Barnard voted 42% in favor, and 47% not in favor.”
After presenting the report, Mazor opened the floor to questions. A School of the Arts senator didn’t like what she perceived as the Task Force taking too strong a stance. Mazor replied that all previous ROTC task forces had done the same, and that it was within their mandate to express what they agreed upon. A senator for GSAS then bristled at the wording of several questions which she saw as one-sided. Another senator discussed the ROTC’s potential effect on the curriculum, and complained that the survey was not specific enough. She and Montás fought for the mic, until Mazor explained that the survey was meant to be general, not specific. A senator brought up the possibility of academic credit for ROTC courses, and Montás explained that according to the Mansfield Report, academic credit and faculty appointment would always be under the control of Columbia. Also raised was the presence of on/off campus programs at “peer institutions.” Jim Applegate spoke to answer the questions regarding the ROTC laws which require full professorships for the instructor, and pointed out that ROTC classes are generally run as extracurriculars, and that the commanding officer usually receives the position of adjunct professor at most.
When the president of Columbia Military Veterans requested to speak to clarify a point, the Senate voted not to allow him to speak.
Finally, PrezBo weighed in on the debate, calling the issue “of significant concern to the University.” He expressed the need for an open, fact-based discussion and called the Senate “the right body to institute that discussion.” PrezBo said that he thinks the conditions will be favorable to “at least one branch of the ROTC,” (almost certainly Naval ROTC, the program Columbia participated in prior to 1969) but quickly qualified that statement, stating it was “just a preliminary” opinion.
Mazor reiterated that any return of the ROTC would be completely on Columbia’s terms.
A professor of Latin American and Iberian studies then reminded the Senate that “an order went out to all ROTC that they were by no means allowed to view or cited or read information” on Wikileaks. PrezBo said that the Task Force did think about that, and Applegate mentioned that cadets are students and only officers upon graduation.
A senator called for a meeting “where all faculty can discuss and express their opinions and debate.” A panel discussion for professors is already planned this coming Tuesday, and there are plans to hold more faculty caucuses and meetings on the issue in the future (see info below!).
Finally, PrezBo called it quits and thanked the Task Force for its work, promising that “we’ll return to it in the weeks ahead.” Everybody started putting their jackets on and talking, and no one even bothered to formally adjourn the meeting.
Bwog will provide our own review of the report in the coming days, and keep you posted on further updates. The Senate anticipates that the full report will be on the agenda at the April 1 plenary session, once Senate committees have had an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.
We’ll be covering Tuesday’s panel. Here’s who’s speaking:
PERSPECTIVES ON ROTC AT COLUMBIA
A panel discussion and audience Q & A
Moderated by John Coatsworth: Professor of International and Public Affairs and of History Dean, School of International and Public Affairs
- Richard Betts: Arnold A. Saltzman Professor of War and Peace Studies, Department of Political Science, Director, Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, SIPA
- David Helfand: Professor, Department of Astronomy
- Bruce Robbins: Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Department of English and Comparative Literature
- Allan Silver: Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology