NROTC Forum: Prepare for the Survey

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If the fliers, op-ed pieces, and general media frothing about ROTC on campus haven’t swayed your opinion in time for the CCSC-produced survey next Monday, on Wednesday night a moderated panel pitted pro against con ROTC factions in Sulzberger Parlor. (Not the same event in the flier pictured at right, but we couldn’t get a snapshot of the debaters.) Each side laid out its main talking-points without introducing too many new facets, and while the debaters were impassioned, all were well-behaved.

On the anti-ROTC side of table, Aries de La Cruz, GS’09, of the Columbia Queer Alliance, Ira Stup, JTS’10, of Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, Rahel Aima, CC’10, of Students for a Democratic Society and the Columbia Coalition Against the War, and Lucha’s Rudi Batzell, CC’09, explained that the debate was “plain and simple.” Their side does not support the “homophobic, racist, and sexist” institution of the military, they said, although Stup mentioned repeatedly that Columbia students are free to participate in ROTC programs at other schools–albeit not NROTC, the Naval division.

On the pro-ROTC side, self-identified gay veterans Scott Stewart, GS, and Justin Johnson, SIPA; Kelley Victor-Gaspar, CC’09, who will be commissioned as a Marine officer in May; and Kate O’Gorman, BC’10, a member of the College Democrats executive board although she was merely representing herself, all agreed that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a discriminatory policy. They support ROTC on campus, they said, for various reasons: It will encourage progressive and pro-gay officers, it will provide students with more scholarship opportunities, and it will improve the “diversity of thought” at Columbia.

Current SGA president Sarah Besnoff, BC’09, moderating, for the most part kept both sides in check and dealt squarely with the occasional heated student at the microphone during the audience question part of the forum.

At times, the argument from both sides of the debate went down strange logical paths, dotted merrily by strategies verging on the ad hominem: “I could give you the phone number of a couple of gay guys serving right now,” fumed one pro-ROTC panelist. Analogies, categories, metaphors, premises–all were mixed and twisted, often unsuccessfully. Justin Johnson refused to acknowledge any analytical difference in the Red Cross’ ban on homosexuals giving blood and the Armed Forces’ DADT. Rahel Aima compared the enforced adherence to military standards in the ROTC to forcing everyone who reads the Symposium to engage in pedophilia. Kate O’Gorman urged Columbia to “negotiate a treaty” with the military that would be gay-friendly.

Perhaps worse was each side’s use of unsourced facts: various statistics about gays and women in the military, obscure bits of Columbia lore (John Jay was once called “USS John Jay” because it produced so many Navy men?), occasional allusions to the powers of the military and executive, and fleeting references to federal and military laws by both sides all seemed culled from merely summary research, at best.

But it was a success, said students in attendance, including CCSC VP for Policy Adil Ahmed, CC’09, who organized the forum and has been “spearheading” the survey. The sour grapes of the evening went to Rajat Roy, SEAS’10, a University Senator for ESC, who said that the other leaders had “really screwed up” by focusing on undergraduates and limiting the survey’s questions. Instead, he said, look for a new two-question survey–aimed at both graduate students and undergraduate students–in the next week or so. The first question, he said, will be whether students want ROTC on campus as it currently stands, and the other will be whether students would support its presence if the military dropped its Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, which looks likely under the Obama administration.


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  1. bwog critic  

    This review of the forum is I think slightly too critical. I went to the forum, and thought it was excellent. While there were some ridiculous point (mostly on the con side), the speakers were overall very well informed. (Just to disclose, I went into the debate pro-ROTC and still hold that position).

    I don't get why Bwog thinks Justin's point on the Red Cross's ban on homosexuals giving blood is different from DADT. Both are policies enforced by an outside regulatory body, that the organizations have not say no. DADT is a federal law. Banning homosexuals from giving blood is an FDA regulation. The military can not more change DADT than the Red Cross can change the ban on gays. The parallel is really quite striking.

    • ...  

      The difference is that the Red Cross is not a department of the University (which ROTC would be), and its phlebotomists are not given the status of professors of the University (which ROTC officers would be).

  2. hahaha  

    Adil and Rajat at the end. Oh this is priceless.

    Glad this shit is finally over. There'll be one more debate after next week's results, and then, NOTHING will change. And we can all go back to doing what we're supposed to.

  3. anti-con  

    The con speakers at this event were tragically ill-informed about the military. The young woman on the con side said something to the effect of "People in uniform scare me" as evidence for how the ROTC would effect student life on campus. Statements like that make me question whether anyone on the con side had actually met a soldier or a veteran. The co -side seemed to believe the soldiers and sailors are faceless killing machines. (One speaker even referred to the military as an organization dedicated to killing!!)

    I think the con side's arguments showed exactly why we need an ROTC at Columbia. Columbia students need to understand that service men and women are people too.

    • okay  

      So explain to me how:

      a) You can have the ROTC on campus when their existence violates university policy
      b) You can change the military in the event that all schools allow ROTC on campus, better than if all of them didn't.
      c) How you can explain to gay people that it's okay for the military to say "sorry you're gay" and discharge them from the military, or force them to hide their homosexuality

      On the Red Cross analogy:
      1) The American Red Cross has been fighting the FDA pretty hard to allow gay people to donate
      2) The FDA ban is based on an (irrational) fear of disease transmission & fatal infection, not a discriminatory, morally backward argument that gay people will destroy military unity.
      3) The Red Cross is not a recruiter. It is asking for blood donations. I don't think they have anything against employing you, even if you are gay. Hence, no violation of University Policy, since no privileges are extended.

  4. agreed  

    I went undecided, and thought the con-side was particularly unpersuasive. a lot of old rhetorical ranting rather than any substantive argument. pro-side was better, still not too insightful though.

  5. erm  

    It doesn't make any sense to me that we can have Model UN on this campus, but ROTC provokes such a response. The military will always exist, and therefore, students should always have the option to prepare for involvement in it if they desire to.

  6. con  

    I thought that both sides made some good arguments and some bad arguments, but ultimately I left the panel very sure of my decision to vote no on the survey and to encourage others to do so as well.

    Mostly, though, I want to say thank you to the above commenter for pointing out the crucial flaw in the Red Cross argument, which I see as being point number 3 that they listed.

  7. hey bwog,  

    why was there an important-looking, multi-limo motorcade on college walk around 9-10pm?

  8. confused  

    I am very confused at the pro's co-opting of all this change rhetoric -- it seems they are trying to mask an issue that is quite simply about discrimination with a facade of liberalism

  9. also,  

    my favorite points from the pro side were things like...
    When Con's brought up rape in the military, the response was something like bad things happen everywhere just go up to harlem or the bronx or (some southern state)... I'll try the Harlem thing out soon hopefully I'll make it before we gentrify it some more and I'll have to walk even further uptown. Ugh.

    or their point about all the wonderful positive things the US military does - like tsunami relief. Personally, I'm not into the tsunami relief as much as I'm into imperialism which is also a function...

    Thank you for educating me con-side! I feel invigorated by all your talk about change. I guess if I'm against DADT the best thing to do would be join the military. I'll make sure to drop that memo off to the anti-war folk. It seems if they all enlisted, the war would be over in no time.

  10. wtf  

    I agree that DADT is absurd. Unfortunately, the Navy doesn't give a flying care that one university won't allow them on their campus. If this boycott had a shot at affecting policy, I'd be all for it. But it doesn't. Really, it's the con side standing on principle at the expense of the majority of students on campus. Allowing ROTC on campus isn't an endorsement. It doesn't mean that you have to agree with their policies. Please focus your efforts on the actual problem, and let the students make their own individual choice as to whether they would like to join the program.

    • Clarify...  

      "Really, it's the con side standing on principle at the expense of the majority of students on campus."

      I don't know what you mean when you say "at the expense of the majority of students on campus". Since CU students are still allowed to participate in ROTC programs elsewhere in the city, I can only assume you are talking about how inconvenient (and even unfair) it is for them to travel--and yet, were Columbia to permit ROTC "back on campus", the army most likely wouldn't set up camp in Morningside at all. There are simply too many students in the relatively small NYC area for them to actually have separate programs at every NYC campus, the way people assume they would here. In reality, CU students who choose to do ROTC would probably still have the same inconvenience of traveling to another campus. is the current situation really hurting anyone?

      I think both sides have become too tangled up in their ideologies. Since it is unlikely that allowing ROTC back would change a thing about how CU students participate in the program, the pro side is mostly just railing on the cons because they perceive them as anti-military. And the cons, I think would have a solid argument were it not for the fact that some of them ARE just anti-military, and foolishly let it show.

      I'm voting no, but I'll just be glad when the whole thing is over. This should never have been brought up in the first place.

  11. went to the forum  

    adil ahmed is a dumbass. he has done nothing for columbia AT ALL as vp policy. columbia 311 is a joke...if that was even his initiative. he thinks everything is so fucking philosophical that he gets nothing done, and beats off to SGB and MSA. he's way too self-absorbed to get anything done.

    i voted connect.

  12. quite pissed  

    i'm sorry, but who the fuck got to choose the pro and con speakers? why does these student council members, who were elected essentially to perform bureaucratic tasks of managing student/administration relations and who only a small fraction of the school voted for, suddenly have such a large say in important issues of campus policy? this who thing reeks of ambitious little shits making a ideologically driven play without the consent of the student body–no student council representative's platform contained anything about reintroducing the question of ROTC.

    For that matter, why do any ABC recognized groups have any say over this issue that goes beyond that of individual students? I am a concerned student against ROTC, yet at am not at all affiliated with any of the groups that were selected to choose the anti-ROTC side. The members of those groups are self selecting, and their officers are selected by group members, not by the student body as a whole As such they should not be given the privilege of determining the course of a debate which concerns every member of the community.

    Couldn't we simply have had an open mic referendum, or perhaps applications to speak prior to the debate? i am deeply concerned by the degree to which ahmed and roy are shaping the progress of this campus wide conversation.

    ALSO, why the FUCK is DADT the most important issue in this debate? frankly, i think that it is not ludicrous to say that we should not support ROTC because it is an integral part of us wars of expansion. the overwhelming nihilism of such comments as "the army will always be with us so we should learn to live with it" is quite upsetting.

    this whole thing is madness.

    bwog: could you please do more work to find out what is causing this discussion to suddenly reappear on campus?

    • read your email  

      read your council president's emails; you will learn all of this information that you seek.

      the emails instructed students on how to become panelists for the rotc forums. any student, affiliated with a campus group or not was welcome to be a panelist. the panelists this evening came in their personal capacity -- not tied to any particular group. the council emails also explained why the rotc debate has come back to campus. if you care about campus issues, it would be advisable that you work to engage with those who represent you in this realm (i.e. your student council).

    • sorry  

      but you, and people like you, are the problem with columbia. Instead of getting so mad about something you should try to get involved and actually change things instead of ranting on bwog or complaining to your friends. Or at the very least, like the comment above me says, read your email.

    • you  

      are a little misguided with some of that, but you are right in that the Councils instigated this with NO demand from the student body. The sour grapes SEAS senator brought this agenda to campus without having been contacted by any student. Instead, he made an issue out of it, and the CCSC VP Policy followed along, feeling his turf was being intruded on. Having made an issue out of it, student groups were naturally made to take positions, but they clearly didn't enjoy having been backed into a corner (hence the meeting Bwog spoke of where Groups called into question the councils' transparency).

      So in short: yes, the SEAS senator fucked up and is not doing what he said he would do during his election campaign. Grounds for impeachment? I don't know. But then again, CCSC also promised that 'nothing is off the record', but the CCSC VP Policy made himself sole arbiter of who could and couldn't participate in the process, until pressure from groups and governing boards forced him to make it an open forum

      What's tragic is that DADT was always going to come under review after the election, and that there was no real will amongst the CU Senate to change the status quo. This whole exercise has been utterly meaningless and a waste of everyone's time. I don't think there has been any fundamental change in either the issue itself or in student opinion since the last 2004 referendum. So yes, impeach the SEAS Senator, but I doubt it'll happen.

  13. #15 again  

    to back track a little bit, i will agree that were i interested in/involved with in campus issues i should read my e-mails more often. as it is, i normally do not this–this is because the infantile level of debate and campaigning surrounding the student councils makes it impossible for me to take them or anything they do seriously. in the past, this has held true.
    to agree with #19, the essential source of my frustration is that the ESC and CCSC have found it appropriate to raise this issue in the first place, with no mandate and no unique reason to do so other than personal ambition and/or ideological position. so, even if i had read my student council e-mails it wouldn't have mattered, because i would still have essentially disagreed with the legitimacy of the debates being held and the idea that a student council member should have the authority to decide who may and may not speak based on what i suspect (but hope otherwise) are essentially arbitrary personal criteria founded in a preconceived notion of how the debate should progress.
    i will, therefore, restate my original proposition: this who thing reeks of ambitious little shits making a ideologically driven play without prerequisite consent of or impetus from the student body. since no student council representative's platform contained anything about reintroducing the question of ROTC, they should should only deal with the debate if it emerges externally and should not independently raise the issue.

  14. Snow  

    Light flurries outside EC

  15. interesting coverage  

    She mentioned ad-hominem attacks, and then refers to "I could give you the phone number of a couple of gay guys serving right now," rather than remarks on how the pro-side was "deceptive" and the military was "meant to kill people." Ok.

    The distinction between the two ideologies was clear. The -con side wants to sit on Columbia's campus and create a gated, ivory-towered safe space at the expense of every other school that must bear the responsibility of military service. They will not engage with the military until its problems have been solved completely.

    Red Cross person: clearly all analogies break down somewhere. The point: discrimination already exists in myriad forms on Columbia's campus. The Red Cross, the Union Theological Seminary (which ordains priests), the Jewish Theological Seminary (up until a few years ago), the very fact that discrimination defines who can get married in St. Paul's Chapel. Discrimination, like it or not, is a part of society, not a function of the military. Yet with NROTC-- despite the fact that Columbia must negotiate a contract with ROTC to bring a program, and could therefore mandate that all classes be open to gay students (as was done at MIT)-- suddenly there is no leeway for NROTC, although the program fits comfortably into dozens of other schools with non-discrimination policies. Think about who you're hurting with this inflexible ideology.

    There are 65,000 gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces, and all of them would want NROTC on Columbia's campus. They need a turnover in who assumes positions of military leadership.

    One of the con panelists mentioned that Columbia was not one of the 20 most gay friendly schools in the nation, implying that a) we do not have a gay-friendly school (um sure), and b) bringing ROTC back would bring us further down the ranks. Guess what? Most of these top 20 gay-friendly schools do in fact have ROTC. How do you explain that?

    • ....  

      The comments you refer to came from someone asking a question, not from one of the panelists on the pro side.

    • Real Facts  

      From Advocate Website, top 20 gay friendly schools are:
      American University
      Duke University
      Indiana University
      New York University
      Oberlin College
      Ohio State University
      Pennsylvania State University
      Princeton University
      Stanford University
      Tufts University
      University of California, Berkeley
      University of California, Los Angeles
      University of California, Santa Cruz
      University of Massachusetts, Amherst
      University of Michigan
      University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
      University of Oregon
      University of Pennsylvania
      University of Puget Sound
      University of Southern California

      Except for American, Tufts, Oberlin, NYU and Puget Sound all of these schools have on campus rotc programs.

  16. anonymous  

    I think one of the choicest comments of the night came from one of the pro-ROTC people who said that if gay people don't like the discrimination in ROTC, they could "just not join".


    • do you really think

      that this opinion represented the views of the pro-side? the panelists, especially the two gay soldiers, overwhelmingly and repeatedly emphasized exactly the opposite-- that the way to make a difference is to change minds on the inside and the outside. they said that gay people should be joining ROTC.

      don't hunt for single comment that agrees with your perception of what the panelists are arguing for, and claim that this is "the choicest comment."

  17. Just Have To Say

    Discrimination in the military is a result of discrimination in society, not the other way around.

    You want sexism and homophobia off campus? Have you been to a varsity locker room? Please lie and tell me there is no culture of discrimination in sports.

    • again  

      There is a difference between implicit, moral differentiation in society, versus explicit legal discrimination. The NROTC, in its written mandate, explicitly excludes homosexuals. Thus, it violates university policy.

      It really seems to me that the Pro-side is afraid to say what is becoming increasingly clear: that there is a violation in discriminatory policy, but the University should mkae a special exception for the military. Have the courage to say that, because that's all you got. This nonsense about the Red Cross and Religion, who are clearly not employers and hence are not offering privileges/opportunities, is just beating around the bush.

      • hmmm  

        When has the pro-ROTC side denied that there is a "violation in discriminatory policy"? All of us acknowledge that-- take a look at our posters, or observe the unanimous and heated opposition to DADT from the panelists last night (half of whom had to live under it, unlike the pro- side who have little experience with the military, despite their willingness to class anyone who disagrees as an "exception."

        We do not say NROTC is an "exception"; we say that discrimination already exists in several other forms on campus. What's beating around the bush is defining the policy in terms of what activities offer "privileges" or exist as "departments," when none of these ideas exist in the anti-discrimination policy itself. As Justin said last night, discrimination is discrimination.

        And here's the thing about discrimination against those who pursue military service (also a protected class in the policy, which includes tens of thousands of gays and lesbians): it doesn't even blame the source of the discrimination. Even if ROTC wanted to, it couldn't change its mandate. That mandate is a federal law, and it was put into place thanks to the workings of democracy. Why deny Columbia students the chance to serve and reform the military in order to live up to a theoretical ideal that doesn't exist on our campus to begin with?

        A Dems poster asks us to consider who we might be hurting. By refusing to accept responsibility as Columbia students, we hurt ourselves, we hurt the military, and we hurt all those currently serving who could use some like-minded support.

        After DADT ends, make no mistake: even if a new, less restrictive policy does not go into place, homophobia will still exist-- as it does everywhere. The fight for LGBT rights in the military has been going on for decades. It's being fought and has been fought by over one million gay veterans. Meanwhile, Columbia sits on the sidelines and does nothing.

        • ...  


          it's really very simple. columbia's anti-discrimination policy is good, dadt is bad. why does it somehow make sense to weaken good local policy by making exceptions that better support bad national policy?

  18. Form 139-R-E  

    I understand I will be disenrolled from the SROTC Program if one or more of the following findings is made:
    a. I have engaged in, have attempted to engage in, or have solicited another to engage in homosexual act or acts.
    b. I have made a statement that demonstrates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts.
    c. I have married or attempted to marry a person of the same sex as myself.

  19. Raj Roy  

    I've not commented at all so far so I feel now may be a good time. All of these are personal opinions or simple facts

    1) I've not been involved in the NROTC issue since starting it back in August and September at the behest of some constituents. Since then the NROTC committee (which I am not on) comprised of council leaders has orchestrated everything.

    2) I said that the leaders screwed up only because they weren't having a second forum as they promised. They really could have booked space or kindly asked another group to yield it so I'm extremely confused as to why they didn't.

    3) The majority of faculty and students I have spoken to (with the exception of those on the NROTC committee who wrote the survey) say that this survey does not yield useful information in its current form and that two questions may give more information.

    4) At this time there will be no second survey until national policy changes. I have come to realize that asking two questions isn't constructive and also see my point 6.

    5) Due to the format of this survey I can't reconcile my moral aversion to DADT and NROTC so I'm forced to abstain or vote no. I will likely do the former as many people in my position will do, I'm sure.

    6) I don't think now is the right time to bring up this issue. We have Change We Can Believe In coming to our highest office (I'm very sad I didn't live in Missouri so I could have changed the result) and I firmly believe that this man will enforce the values of service and freedom that we as a country hold. At such time as he accomplishes change we should discuss this but I don't think that the idea that Undergrads screaming "Let's have (not) NROTC" accomplishes anything as the facts haven't quite changed. For the time being those who want to serve the navy will be unable and I empathize with you.

    7) To #15 (Quite Pissed), please do vote in elections so you can elect the proper people to "perform bureaucratic tasks." Better still, come to ESC/CCSC meetings at 9:30PM on Mondays and 9PM on Sundays respectively in the Satow Room in Lerner. Please feel free to yell at us if we aren't doing a good job. We aren't trying to just use student life funds to go on retreats and pad our resumes. Most of us actually want to help and are trying to do the best we can.

    • #15 again  

      no, i will not. i came to columbia to obtain an education, not to play like i'm your subject in some pretend polity that you and and your fellow aspiring bureaucrats have created.
      you are a representative of the student body, not a politician: your function should be respond to conflicts between the student body and the administration and nothing else. please do not insult me by assuming that becasue a (very small) group of students voted for you to play senator in some activity room i therefore have to a)care about what you are doing or b)engage with you and your silly game. what bothers me is not whether you do a good or a bad job, but the fact that you think that you have a mandate to do this particular job (that is, operating beyond the narrow bounds of facilitating student/administration relations). or, to speak in your terminology, neither the issues raised in the campaign nor voter turnout nor margin of victory give you a legitimate mandate to reintroduce the issue of ROTC only four years after the university senate voted it down. it is clear that you have simply taken your new found position of authority and used it quite cynically towards your own ideological ends.
      i cordially invite you to demonstrate that you have a mandate and a unique and inherant reason to bring up this topic of discussion.

      • Quick Response  

        66% of the vote and I was asked to by SEAS students.

      • Anonymous ESC Member

        #15, you are absolutely correct and I love you. Thanks for putting these egotistical council kids in their place. (But wait, shit, I'm on council!)

        As a member of ESC, I'd honestly have to say that student council is just another campus clique. I'm sad to have joined ESC -- I one thought I could actually make a difference on campus but that was just a pipe dream. The asians have the AAA, the Hindus have the HSO, and the kids who think they're popular and powerful have student council. You are absolutely correct that our job responsibilities are primarily to perform bureaucratic tasks and those who don't agree with this are deluding themselves into thinking they can actually make a difference at Columbia. In my opinion, the best thing we do for students is hold study breaks and other events for students who want free food and also have the bathrooms in John Jay cleaned on a regular basis. If you think that was a joke, I'm serious -- I waste 2 hours of my time on Monday listening to people talk about the fucking bathrooms in John Jay (and occasionally in McBain -- I live for those days.)

        I blame the SEAS senator for actually bringing this issue up in the first place and causing such an unnecessary uproar on campus. Nothing is going to change, trust me.

        • Activist

          Cynicism like yours is why I avoided student government and was a student activist instead. Ultimately, I believe a student can more effect on campus as an activist than as a student council member. I don't mean that as a personal slight because I believe the fault lies in student government and not you.

          • #41  

            I wasn't always a cynic. Like I said in my post, I came in expecting to actually make a difference on campus but I quickly realized that it was little more than an excuse to start drama, socialize, and party about every month or so.

            You're better off being an activist and not having to worry about email blurbs, class email poems, reserving rooms, maintenance, and impeachment drama. Best of luck to you.

  20. #!5  

    what percentage of the student body voted?

  21. Non-student

    I compare this to the Boy Scouts not wanting to admit atheists into their ranks. Sure, they take a principled stance that atheism is contrary to their beliefs, but they lose the opportunity to expose those with whom they disagree to their ideas. By not permitting NROTC, Columbia loses the opportunity to expose future Naval/Marine Corps officers to a world that's more embracing of homosexuality than the typical military culture (which is unlikely to change quickly upon the repeal of DADT). Principled or practical? I'm not a Columbia student, so it's not up to me, but it seems like if you want things to change, if you want people of all sexual orientations to be accepted in national military service, you'd take a step to drive change from within instead of assailing it from without.

  22. If you  

    don't want to do ROTC don't sign up. Why do you hypocritical liberals who are so obssessed with self-righteous paltry acts of service (community organizer...) insist on denying others the opportunity to join ROTC and serve their country? You people are disgusting snotty brats, I guess you're typical spoiled Columbia students.
    wonderfully nonbiased article by the way

    • Liberals pro-ROTC

      "Hypocrtical liberals"? Not so. Many progressive liberals at Columbia support ROTC, eg, Kate O'Gorman and almost all if not all (not sure Kelley is a liberal, though his major indicates he could be) the ROTC advocates on Wed.

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