The Corner

ROTC Debate Rages at Stanford

Despite the recent repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the drive to reinstate the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Stanford University is facing resistance.

In March 2010, the Faculty Senate appointed a committee to investigate whether to allow ROTC back on campus after an almost 40-year absence. The committee will report back in May 2011.

In the meantime, anti-ROTC groups have been making their opposition known. One group, Stanford Says No to War, created a website at the misleading domain name to air its displeasure. (Earlier this month, the university revoked the domain name to avoid further confusion.) Unsurprisingly, the anti-war group believes ROTC’s presence is antithetical to the university’s purpose. It cites Professor Cecilia Ridgeway, who once said in Reading Eagle: “Universities are about solving problems through discussion, not military approaches.”

Other criticisms include the military’s ban on transgender individuals. At a debate hosted by the Undergraduate Senate last month, the Stanford Students for Queer Liberation voiced their objections. “We feel that bringing back ROTC, a program that specifically says transgender people are not allowed, is a violation of [the university’s] non-discrimination policy,” one member said.

Even some faculty members are worried that ROTC will infringe on academic freedom. In January, Professor Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco warned that a recent memo to ROTC cadets forbade them from “using the classified information found on WikiLeaks for research papers, presentations, etc.” The op-ed led the ROTC-committee chairman, Professor Ewart Thomas, to tell the Undergraduate Senate, “This, I think, would be problematic.”

Yet the program has its defenders. In a recent letter to the editor of the Stanford Daily, Tristan Abbey scoffs at complaints over the exclusion of transgender individuals. “It’s . . . a canard,” he writes. “Even if the transgender ban were removed, ROTC opponents would still find an objection. They might insist that ROTC stay banned until the first female is appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs, for example, or until nuclear weapons are eliminated.”

In another letter, Jonathan Margolick, a law student, argues that banning ROTC does not cut the university off from the military. “Like it or not, the actions of our armed men and women are, and will remain, our actions, and a boycott would neither sever our ties with nor end our support for the American military.” As a result, Margolick concludes, “We are confronted with incompatible moral goals, necessitating a difficult choice. How great is the injustice done by the policy against transgendered recruits, and how great an injustice would we commit if, in service to country, to civic discourse and, possibly, to equality, we allowed them on campus anyway?”

This morning, however, proponents of ROTC on campus added former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz to their numbers. In a letter to the ROTC committee, Rice and Shultz endorsed reinstatement of the program. “Given the complexities of the threats we face and the missions we demand of our military in the twenty-first century, this is an appropriate and necessary time for the Faculty Senate to restore ROTC programs to Stanford’s campus,” they wrote. “We can think of no better way to prepare future servicemen and women—many of whom will become national leaders—than by enriching them with a Stanford education.”

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