Feb

24

ROTC Hearing, Part 3: “Proud that Columbia Can Hold Forums on Controversial Issues”

Written by

Conor Skelding covers the last of three hearings hosted by USenate’s Task Force on Military Engagement, held yesterday evening in Altschul Auditorium. These hearings present official forums for discussion on ROTC’s return to campus, and will influence the Task Force’s final report to the USenate.

Update: With these hearings now concluded, let us know what impact they’ve had on your opinions in our poll to the right.

Update: The audio recordings are now available for download via the Task Force website.

The final ROTC hearing ran half an hour over the allotted time last night, despite the organizers’ best efforts to stay on schedule. The lines for commenters were closed at 8:54 PM, but even past 9, many people were still waiting outside the auditorium to be admitted.  A larger space than last week’s hearing, the Altschul Auditorium was packed, including an entire row of outside media. The intensity was palpable; the crowd was eager.

Provost Claude Steele offered opening remarks on informed engagement and appropriate discussion. “I think of myself as a ‘learner,'” he declared. He had been reading extensively on the issue, and encouraged everybody to be open to a fresh perspective. Steele commended the general proceedings, adding that he’s “proud that Columbia has the capacity to hold open forums on controversial issues … For the most part we do this is a civil way.” Should the discussion not be civil and open, he warned, the results would be considered less valid by the Senate.

Ron Mazor, student co-chair of the Task Force opened the mikes to the audience. He reiterated Steele’s call for civility, and reminded speakers that everything said that evening would be preserved for posterity on public record. “There’s media present, so please be aware.” A few chuckles.

His call for comments induced a mad a rush to the microphones. Around 25 people lined up at both the center and side microphones. No hoisted signs were visible, but several students wore matching red shirts and “No ROTC” signs on their chests.

Attendees raised concerns about the organization of the Task Force itself—a complaint notably absent from prior hearings. Speakers (from both sides, though overall more anti-ROTC than pro) argued that SIPA was the only graduate school voting, and the survey was undemocratic. Many called for greater “transparency” in the process of choosing the Task Force. Commenters pointed out that Professor Jim Applegate, a member of the Task Force, appears biased since he has openly supported the return of ROTC in the past, both as a signatory to several pro-ROTC statements and in the senate’s previous deliberations.

Several attendees spoke of the controversial comments and responses at last Tuesday’s hearing, often expressing solidarity with Anthony Maschek, the teased veteran who made national headlines. One commenter scolded the Post for smearing the entire process because of a few students’ reactions, and others criticized both the media and Columbia students for threatening any hecklers.

Arguments for:

  • Some things said by the opposition are “largely hyperbolic and uninformed.”
  • The US military “protects the University” and academic freedom.
  • ROTC scholarships will diversify Columbia and allow students to serve and attend Columbia.
  • The same scholarships may take some burden off of Columbia’s financial aid budget.
  • The military has been ahead of the greater United States on integration and civil rights.
  • Change from the inside led by Ivy League educated officers such as General Petraeus helped bring down DADT.
  • It’s patronizing to say always that ROTC cadets are coerced by monetary need into serving when it is a volunteer organization.
  • No institution is perfect and waiting for ROTC to become a pristine organization is asking too much, especially when Columbia is not blameless itself.

Arguments against:

  • Military discipline degrades academic freedom among students and/or the educators ROTC may  bring with it.
  • ROTC scholarships force students to risk their lives for a college education–it’s “not a scholarship but a forward payment.”
  • Transgender students are still discriminated against by the military, regardless of DADT’s repeal.
  • “Change from the inside” does not work, nor is there evidence that it works.
  • International students may feel excluded and minimized by the presence of the military.
  • “Institutionalizing” the military at Columbia would bring in “imperialism, racism, sexism, homophobia.”
  • ROTC’s inclusion on campus will not lead to the enlightenment or increased understanding on either side that some claim it will.
  • Though in practice the ROTC adjusts its requirements to the University it is hosted within, its operating rules include conditions on professors and educators that go against Columbia’s rules and ideals, and it must be opposed on what it will be by its own ideas, not what it might be when it shows up on campus.

The audio recording of the hearing can be downloaded here.

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41 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Noticed a few typos in this post, Bwog. Just a heads up!

  2. pacnasty  

    "One commenter scolded the Post for smearing the entire process because of a few students’ reactions, and others criticized both the media and Columbia students for threatening any hecklers."

    bwog is so stupid. my point was that it wasn't just hecklers who were being threatened, it was anyone against ROTC (and we can back this up). between you and the spec it's an amateur festival

    • As opposed to...  

      ...the serious, relevant process this otherwise was?

      A lot of people made that point and, hate to break it to you, but your opinion doesn't matter as much as you think. Something people really forgot last night.

      This was a soapbox to assuage the masses and boy did it work--especially on the ANTI side (which admittedly, happens to be my side).

      A few people raised legitimate questions and issues, especially regarding the finer points of the survey going out to students and WHY ROTC left campus in the first place--that one Anthro professor, who spoke at every ROTC meeting over the past 10 years was simply brilliant.

      But most were just content with espousing the broadest statements possible ("no more abu ghraib", really?) and garner the most finger snaps.

      That two-person beat-poetry session near the end was just brutal--like something out of a skit about us "liberal college students". I almost got a nosebleed from rolling my eyes so hard.

    • Stephen Snowder  

      Pacnasty,

      While I believe that there have been threats I would love to see the ones that were actually made. Given that many of the people who brought them up last night did so while implying or outright suggesting that these threats were made by other Columbia students, I hope that there is some support for this suggestion. Because if there is not - and if, in fact, the threats were written by a bunch of internet malcontents on the NY Post or HuffPo web sites - then suggesting that Columbia students are the ones making these threats is deeply dishonest and irresponsible. If you want to email me your information on these threats, my address is sfs2139(at)columbia(dot)edu. Thanks!

  3. CC '11  

    It would be nice if, instead of implying that I am a liar, pro-ROTC people actually responded to my objections to the ROTC's violation of Columbia's non-discrimination policy.

    • Response in 2/20 e-mails

      Opinion on ROTC and Columbia's non-discrimination policy ...

      Question: Can ROTC, under current law, co-exist on campus with Columbia’s non-discrimination policy, as currently written?

      My answer: Yes.

      Using the non-discrimination policy as the reason for excluding a critical part of society from the University is a dangerous interpretation of the policy. In principle, the non-discrimination policy is meant to promote organic diversity and constructive engagement on campus, and protect inclusion at Columbia, which rightfully includes ROTC along with other critical relationships that may be cast as discriminatory in some aspect, such as a women’s college and religions. Advancing the university’s higher pedagogical and public service missions through real diversity, engagement, and inclusion will necessitate, at times, some sensitive trade-offs; the non-discrimination policy addresses the friction that may result. Columbia’s non-discrimination policy becomes grossly corrupted when it is misused as a tool of exclusion, as has happened with ROTC at Columbia.

      Barnard’s admissions policy is the clearest example that, when justified by the greater good, lawful accomodations with the non-discrimination policy are made for existing University associations. I believe other similar examples at Columbia can be found. The question is not whether lawful accomodations can be made with the non-discrimination policy, because they already are. The proper question is whether a lawful accomodation is justified for the greater good.

      Just as importantly, it does not appear from a plain reading of Columbia’s non-discrimination policy that hosting ROTC on campus, under current law, would in fact violate Columbia’s non-discrimination policy.

      Read COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY AND STUDENT NONDISCRIMINATION POLICIES AND PROCEDURES ON DISCRIMINATION AND HARASSMENT.

      From opening paragraph: Columbia University is committed to providing a learning environment free from unlawful discrimination and harassment . . . Consistent with this commitment and with applicable laws, it is the policy of the University not to tolerate unlawful discrimination . . .

      Key phrasing is “unlawful discrimination”. Whatever is one’s personal opinion of it, military personnel policy is lawful, not unlawful.

      From second paragraph: Columbia University does not discriminate against any person in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other University-administered programs . . .

      Key phrasing is “its [Columbia's] … policies”. Military personnel policy is set by the federal government and is not Columbia’s policy. Military personnel policy is limited to a defined jurisdiction. A distinction can be made between the military’s commissioning requirements and the academic program on campus. In order to serve its wider pedagogical function, much of the ROTC program normally is open to the general student body. Other universities that host ROTC with non-discrimination policies similar to Columbia’s policy are able to distinguish between university policy and federal policy. President Bollinger, as the former provost of Dartmouth AROTC and former president of UMichigan AROTC, AFROTC, and NROTC, is well-suited to manage the ROTC relationship on campus.

      From Definitions: Discrimination is defined as: • treating members of a protected class less favorably because of their membership in that class; or • having a policy or practice that has a disproportionately adverse impact on protected class members.

      Lawful accomodations, such as Barnard’s admissions policy, do not infringe the protection of a legally “protected class”. As a practical matter, ROTC enhances the course offerings for Columbia students, while the addition of ROTC on campus would not subtract nor replace anything that currently exists for students. Nor would ROTC require Columbia to rewrite the non-discrimination policy. “Military status” enumerated as a legally protected class in Columbia’s non-discrimination policy also ensures that members of ROTC would be protected and raises the question of the University’s responsibility to Columbia’s ROTC students.

      From Definitions: Discriminatory Harassment – Discriminatory harassment is defined as substantially interfering with an individual’s educational experience by subjecting him or her to severe or threatening conduct or to repeated humiliating or abusive conduct, based on his or her membership in a protected class.

      ROTC and its manifestations on campus (office, classes, training, etc.) would not be a separate zone on campus that allows discriminatory harassment. ROTC cadre and participating students would be held to the same standards of behavior as all Columbians. Columbia students should feel as safe in ROTC offices as anywhere else on campus.

      • Anonymous  

        You left out this part:

        "Columbia University does not discriminate against any person in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other University-administered programs or permit the harassment of any student or applicant on the basis of race, color, sex, gender (including gender identity and expression), pregnancy, religion, creed, marital status, partnership status, age, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, military status, or any other legally protected status."

        • Anonymous

          "University-administered" is the key part. Think of the ROTC scholarship as a private scholarship program, with its own private requirements (it just happens to be administrated by the federal government). And as for the ROTC curriculum itself, the way to meet the nondiscrimination policy is to make it a department/major open to all students, which they are probably gonna do anyway.

          • CC 11

            That's in fact exactly how I'd like to think of ROTC, and it is in fact exactly how the University's relationship to ROTC operates currently. Some students on ROTC scholarships undertake courses with a private, OUTSIDE entity to qualify for those courses. I think we should keep it the way it is, and not have it become an entity and department officially recognized as a University program. Thanks for providing the argument that our current policy re: ROTC and its cadets works just fine. This way, an outside institution discriminates against some of our students, as is the case with many outside institutions, but we remain committed to a community of individuals given equal opportunity to make their voices heard in whichever field they choose based solely on merit, not on their identity.

          • Anonymous

            So you're fine with outsourcing discrimination, but not when its within our borders. Okay then.

          • CC 11

            It's not outsourcing discrimination. Outsourcing would suggest we would do it ourselves, but we'd rather have someone else do it for us. But we don't want anyone else to discriminate either. I'm sure that if Columbia had its way, the military and ROTC wouldn't discriminate against trans students. But, sadly, they do. We don't. We decided that we wouldn't discriminate against LGBTQ students long before this question of inviting ROTC to campus was ever brought up. The idea that we should say that it's suddenly okay for a program to discriminate on our campus because we can "change the program from the inside" is stupid. We didn't take that stance with apartheid South Africa, we divested. We cut all ties with not only South Africa, but with firms that did business with South Africa, and the growing economic isolation of the country helped contribute to the fall of apartheid. It's a limited comparison, but my point is that the argument of "change from the inside" wasn't applicable then to South Africa and it's not applicable now to ROTC.

        • Response in 2/20 e-mails

          The non-discrimination policy was cited and both parts of that paragraph were addressed.

          Part 1: Military personnel policy as a federal policy is distinguishable from Columbia policy - existing ROTC hosts with similar non-discrimination policies are able to do so. Military personnel policy is limited to a defined jurisdiction that does no harm to Columbia students. Commissioning requirements can further be distinguished from ROTC as a campus academic program.

          Part 2: ROTC would not create a zone on campus where discriminatory harassment of any legally protected class is allowed. Columbia's standards of behavior apply to ROTC cadre and students.

          As a general point, lawful accomodations do not infringe the protection of legally protected classes.

          • CC 11

            Look, what you're essentially proposing is that the ROTC, establishing a department and set of courses at Columbia mostly for the purpose of training ROTC cadets to be officers in the navy, will not be discriminatory because, even though the purpose of the department is to fill this program (which very frequently pays large scholarships for college), the program's requirements don't conflict with the University's, only the military's policies do so.

            1. That's so convoluted as to be meaningless. Why would we have a department that is somehow for an outside program, RUN AND STAFFED BY AN OUTSIDE PROGRAM, and is, by law, required to be given credit and positions within the University system, but then claim that it is somehow not run by ROTC, which discriminates against trans students by prohibiting their entry into the program. And please don't try to claim that MIT and Princeton don't award credit. If the military could just decide which parts of the law it wanted to enforce, why didn't it just disobey Congress on DADT and refuse to discharge openly gay and lesbian soldiers? I don't care what the military's position is on the laws that govern it, but Columbia should follow it's own principles as embodied in its policies, including nondiscrimination.

            2. ROTC can only be prevented by creating a "discriminatory zone on campus" by not being on campus. ROTC discriminates against trans students. Period. Students who want to do ROTC and attend Columbia ARE NOT DISCRIMINATED AGAINST BY COLUMBIA. They do ROTC as an outside program, receive scholarships for it which are paid to Columbia, and are able to participate in every University-administered program as an equal with every other student, that is to say, on the basis of merit.

            Eric, if I'm going to be accused by pro-ROTC students as being "disingenuous" and lying when I say that this is about discrimination, then let me venture this thought: The pro-ROTC side doesn't really care about "diversity" (either socio-economic or on military status) at Columbia, because if they did, they would be lobbying for better veterans benefits or financial aid. They don't care about "improving the military from the inside" because, even if that's possible, so-called "liberal" people from "elite" schools already go into the military from places like Princeton and Cornell (and Harvard). The reason the pro-ROTC side pushes so hard is because they're whiny, self-absorbed babies like the rest of Columbia, and their feelings are hurt because ROTC got kicked off campus in 1969 and now dumbshits who read the Post or watch Fox News think Columbia's anti-military, even though we do the most of any Ivy to welcome veterans. They're pitching a fit and trying to invite ROTC because it will make them feel better. Face it, regardless of the history, ROTC's discriminatory prohibition is based on trans students not on the idea of their merit to the military but instead on some social judgments of what's appropriate gender behavior for someone of a certain sex. At Columbia, that shouldn't matter. The only thing that should matter is whether or not you're capable of contributing to the class, department, student group, etc.

          • AM

            Do your research, Military veterans are trying to lobby for better benefits as our scholarship that you think is good enough to keep ROTC of campus will be going away in August. Go to a milvets meeting or their website.
            We have been doing our best to reverse the press that Columbia is anti-military and have been advocating for Columbia as the most accommodating University in the IVY league. The point of the argument is that you should not be restricting someone's right to CHOOSE to go into the military because of THAT PERSONS belief in service to their nation.
            Furthermore, It was not any of the Veterans that were "threatening" you. We hold ourselves to a more professional standard than that. If the threats are real and not just crap you have been reading on the internet by some anonymous user probably as far away as New Mexico, you can always hang out with some vets. We have already proven that we are willing to lay down our lives for the good of our country!

        • But

          The military also discriminates based on age and disability, lawfully. A case can be made for discriminating against those suffering from gender dysphoria (called 'gender incongruence' in the draft DSM-V), just as a case can be made for excluding those with other mental illnesses from military service.

          • Response in 2/20 e-mails

            The policy opinion purposely declines to make a value judgement about any particular disqualifying characteristic for commission because the disqualifying characteristics are several and various. Under the same principled approach and reading of the non-discrimination policy, none of them cause ROTC to be barred from Columbia.

            With the transgender policy controversy, military transgender issues do seem more complicated and nuanced than the issues surrounding DADT. DADT was clearly unjustified and repeal only needed the politics to catch up to the merits. The case for overturning the transgender policy is not nearly as obvious as the case for repealing DADT. From a legal advocacy perspective, I can understand why LGBT military advocates chose not to bundle transgender policy with DADT repeal.

      • ROTC and CU educational mission

        "Nothing in this policy shall abridge academic freedom or the University’s educational mission. Prohibitions against discrimination and harassment do not extend to statements or written materials that are germane to the classroom subject matter."

        You left out the key provision of Columbia's non-discrimination policy that allows the University to do whatever it damn well wants. If the Columbia University Senate decides that ROTC is part of the "University's educational mission", then "nothing in this policy shall abridge" Columbia ROTC.

    • agreed.  

      what's troubling is the fact that i've heard very good (sometimes "right") responses to every counterargument except this one. whenever someone brings up the trans issue, it's just glossed over - or at best, it receives a "well, we have to start somewhere." i don't think anyone disagrees with the principle that by bringing ROTC back, we'll be violating our nondiscrimination policy. i think the point is that proponents are just willing to sacrifice this pillar of our community for what they see as the "greater good." (i'll reserve commentary.)

      correct me if i'm wrong; this is just what i've gleaned.

      • just saw the other response,  

        and it seems that my assumption about the relative uniformity on this issue is wrong :).

        • Response in 2/20 e-mails

          It's bothered me, too, that people have uncritically accepted the assumption that ROTC violates the non-discrimination policy. A plain reading of the policy shows that only unlawful discrimination is barred. ROTC would co-exist just fine with the policy.

          As has been pointed out, LAWFUL discrimination occurs throughout Columbia. Columbia must discriminate, unless we want Columbia to become a very expensive community college or adult education center.

          ROTC, which normally is open in large degree to the general student body in order to fulfill its interactive general education function, actually would be LESS discriminating than other areas of Columbia.

          • CC 11

            Look, Eric, you're clearly not a lawyer. "Any other legally protected status" is in addition to all of the statuses the University itself has chosen not to discriminate against. The university is allowed by law to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression (i.e. trans students), but it holds itself to a higher standard, as the policy points out. Saying that this standard now suddenly doesn't matter just because DADT was repealed would be telling trans students at Columiba, many of whom are my friends, that they don't matter as much as gay and lesbian students, and that it's okay to go back on our commitment to them and throw them under the bus.

            Check it out: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/vpaa/eoaa/docs/student_discrim.html

          • Response in 2/20 e-mails

            The bottom-line is that ROTC on campus wouldn't actually violate the non-discrimination policy nor harm students, whether they are over/ under-age, non-American citizens, transgender, or with other characteristics that disqualify a commission, which includes some veterans. Simply, there is no 'per se' bar of ROTC at Columbia, either of university policy or law.

            But neither do I claim that Columbia is required to invite ROTC.

            Columbia's decision on ROTC can be made unencumbered except for whether Columbia ROTC serves the greater good.

          • Sarah

            Right. Trans identity and expression actually is a legally-protected status in New York City and the State of New York. Although Columbia doesn't say which laws they comply with in the instance of non-discrimination, we can safely assume that NY and NYC laws are covered.

          • Response in 2/20 e-mails

            Federal military commissioning requirements don't violate city and state anti-discrimination laws for ordinary employers either.

          • ROTC and CU educational mission

            Sarah,

            Same as with age, physical condition, etc, the military isn't regulated by civilian employment laws.

          • ROTC and CU educational mission

            PS: Note that the Columbia non-discrimination policy specifies "applicable laws".

            Ordinary employer laws don't apply to the military.

            The opinion actually leaves out important analysis. As I pointed out earlier, Columbia can set aside the non-discrimination policy altogether for the sake of "academic freedom" and CU's "educational mission". Contrary to CC 11's assertion, Columbia has carefully avoided handcuffing the university with an absolute non-discrimination standard. As far as the non-discrimination policy is concerned, Columbia has the flexibility to exercise discretion to reject ROTC, but the same flexibility of discretion allows CU to approve ROTC.

  4. Anonymous  

    Looks like the the vast majority of the "pro" side's arguments consist of "'MURKA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111ONE!!11ELEVENTY"

    • arparp  

      Aren't congresspeople the ones that budget the military's personnel and materiel?

      I bet the majority of the Anti-ROTC crowd would gush and scramble for the chance for the leader of the US Armed Forces to speak at Columbia: the Commander in Chief, Barack Obama. For consistency's sake, every single anti-ROTC member should protest and whine about such a prospect.

      Don't diplomats and Department of State workers also support the whole evil structure? Wait, I've got it!! Get SIPA off our campus!!

  5. arparp  

    "ROTC scholarships force students to risk their lives for a college education"

    How are students forced into a scholarship again? Does this mean we shouldn't have any scholarships that have added risk, like one that 'forces' students to travel to countries with high kidnap/murder rates? You know, like the Peace Corps. Why would it be so wrong to have scholarships for people who become firefighters?

    Are there that many of us at Columbia who are too stupid to get that rewarding someone for taking a risk is not the same thing as forcing them to take a risk?

    • Anonymous  

      What is this glorification of risk? Furthermore, how is the risk involved in military activity at all analogous to that involved in traveling to countries with high kidnap/murder rates? And what do firefighters have to do with anything? (Was your comment a joke?)

    • Anonymous

      Also the Pickering. A scholarship program that requires students serve in the Foreign Service and inevitably go to hazardous foreign posts, including Iraq and Afghanistan, given current needs. I knew one at Columbia as well, and a number of others who applied. I guess according to the anti-ROTC crowd they were all forced into applying and/or accepting it because they were all poor--none had an actual desire to join the Foreign Service.

  6. urgh  

    please, i'm so tired of hearing about ROTC. so when are we bombing libya?

  7. Academic freedom issue

    As a matter of practice and policy, ROTC officials do not interfere with the academic work of ROTC cadets. ROTC cadets are not legally Soldiers. They are not regulated by UCMJ nor are they federal employees.

    The Wikileaks controversy, however, has elicited an extraordinary damage control throughout the entire federal government, including the military. Recall the very similar SIPA controversy at Columbia in the Fall. For both aspiring commissioned officers and aspiring civilian federal agency employees, the advisory concerns revolve around the effect of Wikileaks use on Security investigations for required Security clearances.

    Like SIPA, ROTC has struggled over how to best advise its students given the Security investigations concern while abiding by the practice and policy of not interfering with their students' academic freedom.

    Where the issue stands: ROTC does not prohibit ROTC cadets from accessing Wikileaks on personal or school computers and using/discussing the materials for class. (Accessing Wikileaks on a government computer is a different issue, but that shouldn’t apply to cadets.) Instead, as with the SIPA students, ROTC cadets are being advised to use their best judgement.

    I suggest visiting advocatesforrotc.org and reviewing the "Issues and Myths" page for more background information on this issue.

  8. Anonymous

    "its operating rules include conditions on professors and educators that go against Columbia’s rules"

    Could someone provide a specific example, i'm curious.

  9. Anonymous

    This was the only quality video I could find from the forum.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yHbB64KGrI

  10. USMC

    We're here . . . . . . . with beer . . . . . . . . get used to it.

  11. Bwog's survey  

    I would just like to call attention to Bwog's poll re: forums and rotc opinion changes. At this time, 22 percent of the votes, i.e. the second highest percentage, goes to the option of still not caring about ROTC at Columbia. Seriously -- shame on you, Columbians. While outraged and frustrated at the lunacy of pro-ROTC arguments, I respect those deluded people for at least realizing the importance of this issue.

    To not have an opinion, at all, about the uniformed military men and women being officially sponsored by our university, whether in support or in protest, is really a pitiful stance, or lack of, I suppose.

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