The Wall Street Journal has an editorial today about the Columbia University Senate’s vote against allowing ROTC to return to campus. The vote was particularly disappointing because, at least among students, there was significant support for ROTC’s return, with one poll showing 65 percent of respondents in favor and with the Columbia Spectator also on board. Last week I spoke with Jim Lowe, a Columbia ’51 graduate and the alumni leader of the campaign for ROTC. He thinks all the concern about “don’t ask don’t tell,” the main objection raised during the Senate debate, is a façade for the same old anti-military worldview that led to ROTC’s exile in the late-‘60s (those who don’t like DADT, he says, should take it out on Congress, not the military or the students who choose to serve their country).
But even if the concern about discrimination is principled (as Richard Bradley argues it is here), ROTC advocates say that in banning the group Columbia is discriminating against those who wish to choose military service as a career. In other words, assuming no change in the law, someone is excluded or given second-class treatment no matter what. The real question, then, it seems to me, is whether ROTC’s presence–especially right now–serves a good that is greater than the harm done by the exclusion of students who are openly gay.
Looking ahead, the advocates plan to continue their efforts, despite the setback: They can still rally alumni to withhold contributions to the university and work for incremental changes like improving conditions for cadets, stepping up recruitment, and promoting greater understanding of (and appreciation for) the military on campus.