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.