PrezBo Speaks On ROTC

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It’s been a busy day for NROTC survey planners, as usual. This afternoon, President Bollinger sent an email to the Columbia community, stating his thoughts on ROTC:

  • First, PrezBo declared that “Columbia University has a long and continuing tradition of making special efforts to open its doors to men and women with military service.” He mentioned on GS and its commitment to military veterans.
  • Second, he wrote “it is inaccurate to say that Columbia students do not have ROTC available to them.  In fact, the University has continued to facilitate the participation of interested students who, like their peers at almost every other New York area college, take part in one of two regional magnet ROTC sites at Fordham and St. John’s.” He expressed skepticism that an ROTC program at Columbia would increase participation in ROTC.
  • Finally, he defended the University Senate vote in 2005, declaring it a vote purely against discrimination, and not against the military. He closed by writing that “we should always welcome discussion, but we should also always try to live up to the ideals we agree on.”

Not only does the email make PrezBo’s position fairly clear, but, unfortunately for the NROTC planners, the email also shows that PrezBo has not been paying attention to their efforts. Contrary to Bollinger’s claim, there is no Naval ROTC program for Columbia students. The only Naval ROTC program on Manhattan in New York City, SUNY Maritime, serves only students at Fordham, Molloy, and SUNY Maritime itself — the program does not have an official contract with Columbia (to recognize scholarships and so on) which is necessary for participation. The council survey, then, is focused on the one program that is unavailable to Columbia students.

The full email is posted after the jump.

Dear fellow member of the Columbia community:

Now that the glow, and the dust, of the nationally broadcast ServiceNation Presidential Forum has settled just a bit, I want to respond to one issue that emerged in the discussions, namely the role of ROTC and the campus.

First, let me say that Columbia University has a long and continuing tradition of making special efforts to open its doors to men and women with military service.  For example, there are more than 50 veteran service men and women currently enrolled in our School of General Studies, many of whom have recently returned from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, including 19 incoming students this year alone.  The School of General Studies was founded in 1947 largely to enable veterans of War World II to secure an Ivy League education.  While we certainly have many veterans attending the University’s many graduate schools, we are very proud of the fact that General Studies continues actively to recruit military veterans as part of its mission of providing a Columbia education to a wide diversity of nontraditional undergraduates.

Second, as some of you may already know, it is inaccurate to say that Columbia students do not have ROTC available to them.  In fact, the University has continued to facilitate the participation of interested students who, like their peers at almost every other New York area college, take part in one of two regional magnet ROTC sites at Fordham and St. John’s.  These Columbia students receive the same scholarship benefits as those at schools that formally host ROTC.

Third, it should be noted that, as the Wall Street Journal reported last year, the Department of Defense (DOD) has, for its own fiscal reasons, instituted a policy of aggregating small numbers of ROTC students in urban areas into pooled programs on a limited number of campuses.  Currently, five Columbia students are enrolled in the New York regional ROTC program at Fordham.  As a result, it is not at all clear whether a change of policy would have any impact on the current practice of having our students travel to one of the other campus ROTC sites, as do virtually all other students at New York area colleges and many others across the nation.

Finally, in 2005, the University Senate voted overwhelmingly against formally inviting ROTC onto campus.  Senate members may have had a variety of reasons for their votes, but the record and official reports make it reasonably clear that the predominant reason was one of adhering to a core principle of the University:  that we will not have programs on the campus that discriminate against students on the basis of such categories as race, gender, military veteran status, or sexual orientation.  Under the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the Defense Department, openly gay and lesbian students could or would be excluded from participating in ROTC activities.  That is inconsistent with the fundamental values of the University.  A number of our peer institutions have taken a similar position.

In closing, let me just say that this issue is a serious one deserving of our full and continuous attention.  The University, as such, does not take positions on major public issues, except as they pertain directly to our own policies, so that is not the question at stake here. The University must, however, operate according to its basic norms and principles in fulfilling our mission of research, teaching, and public service.  Along with everything else, these, too, are open for robust discussion and debate–including how we define, articulate, and apply those principles.   We should always welcome discussion, but we should also always try to live up to the ideals we agree on.


Lee C. Bollinger


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  1. uhhh  

    I think this is wrong:

    "Not only does the email make PrezBo's position fairly clear, but, unfortunately for the NROTC planners, the email also shows that PrezBo has not been paying attention to their efforts. Contrary to Bollinger's claim, there is no Naval ROTC program for Columbia students. No program on Manhattan has an official contract with Columbia (to recognize scholarships and so on.) The survey, then, is focused on the one program that is unavailable to Columbia students."

  2. NROTC  

    The only Navy ROTC unit in New York City is located at SUNY Maritime in the Bronx. Students from three different NYC schools may participate in the program: SUNY Maritime College, Fordham University, and Molloy College.

  3. NROTC  

    is not listed on the Columbia website either.

    geez Bollinger. Way to be in tune with what the students are doing.

  4. Bollinger

    He is definitely representing the issue with a certain twist. The fact remains that Columbia (and all these elite schools) do embarrassingly little in terms of contributing to the military-- 50 students, seriously? The anti-discrimination policy and the DADT question also are more complex than he makes out.

    Word has it that key deans sat down with a group of first-years, and went through an "education" campaign, which obviously ignored the specific case of NROTC and presented this as a "DADT vs. pro-gay" debate. The administration is obviously unsettled, and has begun to take action.

  5. if true  

    If that dean thing is true, that is seriously messed up.

  6. Prezbo what?

    One, it's not "military veteran status" in the university non-discrimination policy, it's "military status". Why is President Bollinger (deliberately?) misstating Columbia's non-discrimination policy? Maybe because "military status" means that ROTC cadets, not just veterans, have to be afforded the same level of protection from discrimination as every other group at Columbia. Which calls into question whether forcing military students off campus in order to be military is discriminatory.

    Second, how about Barnard and religions at Columbia? As much as they do belong at Columbia (as does ROTC), is Prezbo saying there's nothing discriminatory about them?

    • What  

      your point about religions doesn't make any sense. Religious groups at Columbia cannot, by consitution, exclude students from participating on the basis that they belong to another religion. If anything, they try to encourage inter-faith dialogue and/or proselytize the non-believers.

      They aren't recruiting for the purpose of employment either.

      Advocates for ROTC/NROTC keep on harping on how they should rightfully be allowed to recruit on campus, yet you consistently fail to appropriately respond to the discriminatory nature of their DADT policy. The only reason the ROTC should be allowed on campus is if you treat the military as an exception amongst employers.

      And as Brinkley and PrezBo have pointed out, even if they were allowed back on campus, they probably wouldnt come. So you're arguing ideology, not reality/practicality. So why would you defend the ROTC on ideological grounds, if they are discriminatory?

      • yes but  

        ROTC is an exception amongst employers. The military will never go away, and the military is the responsibility of all Americans. As voters, we command the military. We elect the commander-in-chief; we elected the Congressmen and Clinton who brought DADT into being. Allowing the institution to decay, rather than stepping up as talented Ivy League students to change a necessary part of American society, we do nothing but drain the life out of an institution at the very center of our lives, whether we care to admit it or not.

        Yes, DADT is troubling. But as I've stated, the military itself did not enact it; elected Congressmen did, and then an elected Clinton signed it. These laws may be discriminatory, but they do not go away because Columbia refuses to actively engage with the military (and having 50 veterans 5 ROTC students does not count). These are the laws of the land. Marriage too is discriminatory. Yet marriage, an institution as permanent as the military, occurs on campus. Should Columbia not allow marriages to take place on campus, since certain flawed laws create discrimination?

        Or should Columbia recognize that we live in America, and creating a fantasyland of non-discrimination on campus only removes us from the real world, only denies the legal truths of the world in which we live. Without seeking to change these truths through action, we sink into disapproving complacency.

        On a less ideological note, ROTC is less discriminatory than the laws that govern our military. In fact, gay students can enroll in ROTC (and do so, at MIT). The military won't fund their tuition. So MIT repays them. Would Columbia seek such a compromise, while we wait for Obama to get his act together and end DADT?

      • Prezbo what?

        Your reduction of ROTC to DADT is false on its face. We can and should oppose discrimination and support and promote the merits of ROTC at Columbia.

        I argue for Columbia not to be discriminatory. Our non-discrimination policy is meant to promote diversity and engagement, and protect inclusion, even when it sometimes entails friction. Our non-discrimination policy is NOT meant to be used as a tool of exclusion and segregation, as currently practiced by Columbia against ROTC. Of course, according to the same policy, Columbia isn't allowed to discriminate against the military, either.

        It's true: our military isn't just any employer. With or without the DADT issue, our military is fundamentally exceptional.

        The argument for the inclusion of religions at Columbia in order to foster engagement and education also applies to ROTC as an organic campus resource for engagement and education with the military.

        Columbia's boycott of ROTC doesn't aid reform of DADT; it hurts it. The only true DADT reformers at Columbia are ROTC advocates. Columbia's 40-year-old boycott of ROTC only widens the civil-military gap that helps to preserve DADT. When Columbia promotes anti-military discrimination, we lose our voice to fight any discrimination. With ROTC, Columbia has a legitimate voice in social civil-military matters, including the national DADT debate. Without ROTC, Columbia is dismissed as an arrogant, out-of-touch, insular free rider.

        It's a myth that a university with a non-discrimination policy cannot co-exist with ROTC. Other universities are able to uphold robust non-discrimination policies while preserving the merits of ROTC. Many note their opposition to DADT alongside their support for ROTC; we can, too. We should ask Prezbo how he did it when he was the champion of diversity as the President of the University of Michigan and its ROTC programs. Of course, real diversity on a university campus, whether U.Michigan or Columbia, rightfully includes ROTC.

        Finally, if it's true that ROTC won't come to Columbia even if invited, isn't it wiser then for Columbia to issue what amounts to a symbolic invitation? Doing so would place the onus on the military for refusing to be at Columbia, while ridding the current onus on Columbia for anti-military discrimination.

        • wrong  

          Again, the issue of religion has nothing to do with this issue, because ALL student groups at Columbia cannot achieve group recognition if their constitutions exclude members of a different community.

          Second, to reduce DADT to a clinton policy and dismiss it is such is to ignore the fact that prior to the ruling, the law was "no gays in the military".

          Third, you still refuse to address the fact that it would be very easy to just repeal DADT, and yet it persists, suggesting willful discrimination by either the Military or the Government, especially at a time when the need for recruitment by the military is great.

          Fourth, you suggest that engaging the ROTC is a better way to accomplish ROTC reform than boycotting it. You provide the example of MIT; however there is no evidence of schools that do this having achieved anything. In fact, the MIT policy seems absurd; if anything it incentivizes discrimination. Columbia's stand is clear: We support ROTC, but only with DADT Repealed. Thus, Columbia has in fact taken the stand you suggest - we like ROTC, but we are opposed to DADT.

          Put it this way - which is more likely to achieve ROTC reform: every university allowing ROTC while noting opposition to DADT, or every university boycotting it?

          • Prezbo what?

            There's a difference between religion-themed student groups and religions at Columbia, just as there's a difference between military-themed student groups (eg, Hamilton Society, MilVets) and the military at Columbia. For good reasons, we have religions at Columbia, not just religion-themed student groups. For equally good reasons, we also have a women's college.

            The history of Columbia's boycott of ROTC pre-dates DADT by decades and is historically grounded in anti-military discrimination. To use legitimate concerns about DADT as the post hoc reason to rationalize a reactionary stance on ROTC does a gross disservice to Columbians who are serious about DADT reform. If the common goal is to reform DADT so that more openly gay Columbia graduates can serve honorably as soldiers alongside their fellow Americans, that can hardly be accomplished by corrupting a legitimate LGBT protest with the university's older anti-military discrimination. Instead, we need people to come together, understand each other, compromise, and take mutually constructive steps. Returning ROTC to Columbia is a necessary first step in that conciliation. I want Columbia to be a progressive change agent on DADT, but Columbia cannot be taken seriously in any advocacy for positive social change in the military while our university's anti-military history remains unresolved.

            As an alumnus, I am saddened by your lack of faith in the potential of Columbia as a force for progressive change. Exclusion and segregation are a poor way to normalize values - it is, however, a great way to widen gaps in our society. Integration and engagement across institutions, and investment of our graduates, are the realistic and traditional ways for Columbia to make a difference in the military, as Columbia has done with our other relations in larger society, as Columbia once did in the military before 1969. Is anything at Columbia an instant magical solution? No, but as in the other parts of society to which Columbia contributes, real incremental change and movement forward can be built upon, and is far better than adding to the problem or doing nothing.

            Do I believe Columbia University with ROTC can be - will be - better than MIT, and every other university, as a force for progressive change in our military? Yes. I believe in Columbia and Columbia ROTC.

          • what  

            I respect where you're coming from on this. I am not one of those anti-military people like #28 and #29. It's a mistake to conflate foreign policy with military service. Countries like Switzerland and Singapore have mandatory military service for people our age and yet they don't go 'shooting strangers in foreign nations'. That is a function of foreign policy, ie, who you vote into office, and should not be conflated w/ military service.

            There are still however a few problems with you argument:

            1) What does "religions" at Columbia even mean, if not student groups? I don't think this is a valid analogy and I just don't see them as comparable situations.

            2)Your point about a post-hoc rationalization isn't really true because, again, it's not like pre-DADT the policy was not discriminatory. It was. But the main point would be that several times after the ROTC was first banned from campus, there have been referendums held about whether or not to reinstate them. The last referendum allowed ROTC back on campus but only if DADT was repealed. So this isn't a post-hoc rationalization of keeping ROTC away from campus as you suggest.

            3) I still disagree with the assessment that by allowing ROTC back on campus, that will encourage DADT to be repealed. I think the fact that a few ivies have also taken this view is a slap in the face of the DADT policy.

            The military has always begin a progressive institution in America, setting an example to the nation in promoting the tolerance of ethnic/racial minorities and immigrants amongst their ranks. So why tarnish this rich tradition? The military should be an example to the rest of the nation and should be a leading institution in its evolution. It should not lag the country in the spirit of tolerance and intolerance that it embodies.

          • Advocate

            At Columbia there are religious services that are held regularly by "outside" organizations through the Chaplains office. Catholic Mass and Protestant services are held at St. Paul's Chapel. The Kraft Center hosts Kesher, Koach and other services. And so on and so forth. These religions have their own requirements for being a part of their religion. To become Catholic, one has to go through a series of procedures, to become Jewish one must meet other requirements.

            As one example - one of the functions of a church is to marry individuals. But yet two Catholic individuals who are gay would not be permitted to marry one another in St. Paul's Chapel under the Catholic Church. This is wholly discriminatory. And yet Columbia permits an outside organization, the Catholic Church, to hold mass and even to hold weddings at Columbia.

            Like these religions, these elements of churches and the like that operate at Columbia and are identified with Columbia, ROTC is an outside organization bound by laws and rules that the university is not bound by. Admittedly some of these laws, like DADT, are discriminatory and wrong and arguably hurt the military as well. But the military, and ROTC as a part of the military, are bound by those laws until the people elect representatives willing to change them.

            The analogy between ROTC and religious groups at Columbia is not perfect. But it is notable nontheless.

          • Prezbo what?

            Regarding religions at Columbia, I can't add to what #31 said, except a personal note: I'm not religious. As a student, I was sensitive to the close presence of religion on campus. Indeed, walking (or running) past St Paul's chapel to class, even participating in events held within our beautiful chapel, I couldn't help but be reminded that religion is firmly rooted at Columbia. Which is not to imply that Columbia religious representatives ever mistreated me personally as a student, quite the opposite. However, I know the various religious doctrines well enough to understand that I cannot belong to them . . . unless I, to borrow Provost Brinkley's unfortunate phrasing, choose to pass myself off as one of the converted.

            Even so, would I ever support the exclusion of 'discriminatory' religions from Columbia? Never, whether or not my immortal soul is condemned to burn. The reasons for including religions at Columbia are too compelling, as are the reasons for including Barnard and ROTC at Columbia.

            Comparing religion, ROTC and Barnard at Columbia is not a perfect analogy and it's not meant to be. Each offers a distinct argument for inclusion at Columbia based on their merits for a university that claims a flagship role influencing greater society. The different entities have in common that each can be described as discriminatory in some aspect, while their exclusion could be argued to be discrimination by the university.

            One key difference between religion, Barnard, and the military is that I don't expect religions ever to change their canon law to accomodate people like me, nor do I expect Barnard to go co-ed. I do expect federal law to change to better accomodate openly gay citizens in their desire to serve the American people with honor, just as gay Americans have served our country since before we were a nation. I want Columbia to be part of that change, and not, as we currently do, add to the problem.

            Regarding the DADT reason as post hoc rationalization, I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is. Prezbo may try to soft-sell them, but there indeed were "a variety of reasons for their votes" and most of them were reactionary and anti-military. More telling than the words spoken at the 2005 vote was the prevailing attitude in the university senate. As one Columbia faculty ROTC advocate noticed as an attendee, the lack of regret for excluding ROTC was disturbing - and telling.

            From the outside looking in, the DADT reason is viewed as the latest excuse for the longstanding exclusion of ROTC - the DADT reason is always linked with Columbia's anti-military history. A Spec columnist recently claimed Senator Obama simply didn't know about the DADT reason when he made his ServiceNation statement. Of course, Obama knows about it. Only Columbians looking inward have convinced themselves that the university's anti-military position can be so easily edited.

            What Columbia actually did in 2005 was corrupt the national DADT reform movement, which should be pro-military, by using it as a cynical front for an existing anti-military practice.

            Columbia can't just slap a coat of paint on an older and traumatic institutional injustice and call it new - it just doesn't work that way in real life.

            Columbia Navy ROTC was one of the most storied ROTC programs in the country; for Columbia to be able to do what it did to CU NROTC in 1969 was shocking. The military hasn't forgotten. That's why a formal invitation from us is the necessary first step to restore ROTC at Columbia, in order to assure the military that Columbia has moved past its history.

            I agree that the military has always been a leading progresssive institution. A main reason why is the military - more than any civilian institution - is people, and by the people for the people.

            Among the people, Columbia has a progressive liberal tradition for bringing about change. Increasing social divisions, withholding our graduates, and abandoning segments of our society isn't the way for Columbia to foster positive change. Engagement, mutual exchange, and investing our graduates is our way.

            Finally, consider this wild card. Both presidential candidates have said ROTC should be at Columbia, but only Senator Obama - the avowed 'change' candidate - is on record that he will enforce the Solomon Amendment as President at universities like Columbia. If Obama becomes President, we may do well to consider inviting ROTC on our terms before the progressive activist Commander in Chief imposes his terms upon us.

  7. false again  

    "In fact, the University has continued to facilitate the participation of interested students"

    This too is false. Columbia does nothing to "facilitate" student participation in ROTC. If you want to do ROTC, you're pretty much on your own as far as Columbia is concerned.

    • Facilitating ROTC?

      I suspect they might offer up the Columbia website on ROTC as an example of facilitating student participation.
      But guess what, that website was the work of Sean Wilkes and Jen Thorpe back in 2004 during the first iteration of this debate. If I'm not mistaken, Wilkes actually created the website himself before convincing student affairs, or CCIT, or whomever to make a space for it online.
      So that was Advocates for Columbia ROTC and SU4A actually doing the facilitating. NOT COLUMBIA.

  8. huh?

    wouldn't it be easier to seek access for our students to SUNY Maritime's program rather than to rehash an old issue on our campus about DADT and the non-discrimination policy of the university?

  9. It would seem easier  

    It would seem easier to open the SUNY Maritime program to Columbia students. Several Columbia alums have been working for years to get the Navy to do this. However, because of the program's structure, it's difficult to integrate students from outside schools. Maritime is a good 2 hour commute from Columbia. It's also an 24/7 military environment. The program would demand too much of students who live too far away. Even Fordham and Molloy students, who have a shorter commute and a lighter workload than Columbia students, have a hard time participating in this program.

  10. how bout

    we put some of the gays into the Navy and let them see what it is like to be a CU student and have to watch what you say and do b/c there will be a court marshall/hunger strike if they do something that the organization doesn't agree with. Or they could take a page from the militant black contingent on campus and hang a pink triangle outside the door of a gay student and then cry wolf while preventing civil dialogue...

    • Ummm  

      Can we please delete these racist assholes? No one likes them. At this rate we should ask all non-Columbia IPs to register if they're all like this guy. These are the guys always causing the problems in the comments section

  11. Alum

    "Contrary to Bollinger's claim, there is no Naval ROTC program for Columbia students. The only Naval ROTC program on Manhattan, SUNY Maritime, serves only students at Fordham, Molloy, and SUNY Maritime itself . . . ."

    Where, exactly, does Bollinger claim that there *is* a Naval ROTC (NROTC) program for Columbia students? He doesn't. He refers only to ROTC.

    More to the point, Bwog's reference to "the only Naval ROTC program on Manhattan" is a non-sequitur. PrezBo's comment refers to programs at Fordham and St. John's, the latter of which is not in Manhattan.

    There is no contradiction between PrezBo's statement and the claims in this article. That little detail seems to have gone unnoticed until now.

    • Prezbo what?

      By bunching all ROTCs as a single entity, Bollinger helps prove why we need ROTC at Columbia. Bunching all the military branches' ROTCs like he did is not unlike bunching the countries of Latin America or Asia together; perhaps acceptable in some circles, shocking by a leader of a flagship institution of higher learning. He helps prove that an organic military presence is needed on campus to foster understanding of the military through education and engagement.

      NROTC is not the same as AFROTC or AROTC. Putting aside the embarassing contention that forcing students to go far away from Columbia in order to be military somehow qualifies as fair and equal access and exposure, NROTC at Columbia is exceptional among ROTCs because of the current absence of access, Columbia's storied NROTC tradition (CU NROTC once rivalled the Naval Academy), and the special fit of Naval service careers for SEAS engineers.

  12. Alum

    Two commenters have suggested that 50 veterans is too few for Columbia, but they miss a basic point -- this figure is only for the School of General Studies. The "many veterans attending the University's many graduate schools" PrezBo mentions are in addition to the 50 at GS.

    GS only has 1,200 students, so 50 veterans amount to more than 4% of the enrollment. That's not such a terrible percentage.

    • but there are

      only five Columbia students are currently in ROTC at Fordham. Five. Students from Columbia and its sister schools pour into investment banking, yet all of its students rely on the military as an integral (though shamefully invisible) institution of society. So the military continues to recruit middle-class white boys from Iowa, and the military's worst trends continue to perpetuate themselves. Columbia students need to step up and share some civic responsibility, not pretend that the military doesn't affect them.

  13. btw  

    SUNY Maritime is in the Bronx.

    • yet another  

      case of bollinger misrepresenting the DADT situation.

      perhaps that e-mail was just as hastily composed as his response to Brinkley stepping down? the guy could use some fact-checkers!

  14. ...  

    i'm sorry, i just don't see why the only problem people have with rotc is the don't ask don't tell policy. frankly i think we should be more than a little suspicious of supporting the on-campus presence of an organization which sends kids to foreign nations to shoot strangers.

  15. hmm

    there is definitely something frightening about on campus military recruitment.. if people want scholarships from ROTC because they're interested in the program, that is one thing -- but people who are earnest about being part of the US military, about joining the force, do have other options. it's not as if Columbia is stopping anyone from joining the military. the DADT policy goes against so many columbia and barnard students' values that I don't think ROTC could find itself on campus as long as that policy remains.

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