Bringing ROTC Back to Stanford

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Stanford University’s faculty senate voted last week to study bringing Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs back to campus. According to Stanford:

The Faculty Senate agreed Thursday to create a committee to study Stanford’s role in preparing students for leadership roles in the military, including the potential benefits of re-establishing a… ROTC program on campus.

“It is our assumption that the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, which has been a serious impediment to reopening this discussion at all, will probably go away within the next year or two, and the field will be open to have a reasonable discussion on this,” [Stanford Emeritus Professor of History David] Kennedy said.

Currently Stanford students enrolled in ROTC programs have to commute to nearby schools to fulfill their commitments.

Kennedy’s ROTC explanation is interesting, though not entirely satisfactory. Stanford did not remove its ROTC program from campus because of hostility over gay issues. In 1973, the last year ROTC was on the Stanford campus, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell didn’t exist. In fact, in the 1970s military policy was even more restrictive. People who “engaged in homosexual acts or stated that they are homosexual or bisexual were to be discharged,” immediately and dishonorably.

No, Stanford got rid of ROTC because of campus hostility over the Vietnam War and, well, because ROTC courses were terrible. According to a 2002 article in Stanford Magazine:

“Basically the curriculum was awful,” says Barton Bernstein, a Stanford history professor who helped lead the 1969 movement against ROTC. “It was on the level of mediocre coursework in high school. The readings were sophomoric. The ROTC faculty were not PhDs. I think it was the case that some [opponents to ROTC] had deeper political purposes, but everybody could agree that it was an intellectual embarrassment.”

A few years ago all Stanford academic departments looked at ROTC courses again to determine if they had improved, if they were consistent with the quality of other Stanford courses. In virtually all cases the departments decided ROTC courses were still lousy.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer