In 2005, the University Senate voted 53 to 10 (with 5 abstentions) against repealing the ban of ROTC on campus. At the time, the most recent student survey conducted about the issue (in 2003) showed that 65% of students were in favor of repealing the ban. Two days ago, only 49% of students who participated in the survey were in favor of repealing the ban. So what’s up with the 15% shift in attitudes? Here are a few theories.
1. Less favorable attitude towards the military. During the 2003 vote, September 11th was still fresh in the minds of everyone on campus, and some had even been in New York at the time. According to a 2005 New York Times article, “one supporter of the R.O.T.C. said yesterday that the Sept. 11 attacks may have softened attitudes toward the military.” In addition, the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, which was, at the time, actually popular. A Washington Post/ABC news poll in March conducted at the onset of the war showed that 62% of the country was in favor of military action in Iraq. Things are different now: besides New York locals, no current undergrads were at Columbia during 9/11, and it’s not at the forefront of the national consciousness like it was in 2003. And the War is of course deeply unpopular. Both these things could color students attitudes towards the military.
2. Increased LGBT presence. In a November interview with the Blue and White, Columbia Queer Alliance leader Peter Gallotta described the state of 2005’s LGBT community as “six people in the Stephen Donaldson Lounge” and a handful more who turned up for Queer Sushi. In contrast, the LGBT community of 2008 is an activist force to be reckoned with. CQA’s Facebook group boasts 172 members, and when the campus queer community speaks, students and members of administration listen. It’s very possible that the LGBT community’s strengthened voice on campus contributed to the shift in student opinion. Also, the NROTC vote was hot on the heels of the Propsition 8 vote. Students who had hoped that Prop 8 would have turned out differently may have been more inclined to support LGBT causes here at home.
3. Changes for campus conservatives and moderates. In the shadow of Obama’s win, many undecided voters could been influenced by the victorious spirit of liberalism on campus. They might have been more inclined to take cues from the Dems or other liberal campus groups who came out against repealing the ban. Politics has been in the shadow of Obama for about a month (some could argue longer), and that probably took attention away from conservatives. That Obama endorsed the return of ROTC himself didn’t seem bolster the presence of campus conservatives, who have been a quieter, more self-contained force on campus in the wake of Kulawik anyway.