Brown’s ROTC Problem

With President Obama’s reversal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy that banned homosexuals from openly serving in the military, in December many colleges eagerly welcomed the military back to their campuses. Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, for example, recently decided to bring the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), the country’s college-based, officer commissioning program, back to their campuses.

Brown University considered bringing ROTC back to campus, too. According to a February editorial in the Brown Daily Herald:

Brown originally stripped ROTC of its academic status — effectively removing it from campus — due to anti-Vietnam War sentiment. Over the years, opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” replaced Vietnam as the justification for keeping ROTC away. Yet the University scarcely revisited its policy despite this inconsistency. The past few senior classes have gone in and out of the Van Wickle Gates without having seen a formal reevaluation of Brown’s stance on ROTC, while our military continues to fight in two wars overseas. We are pleased that the University will finally tackle this issue.

We should consider potential benefits of having ROTC on campus as well. Attracting aspiring officers would bring an added dimension of diversity to campus. And bringing ROTC to Brown could help diversify the program’s ranks, where the Northeast is underrepresented.

The problem with this is that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was actually the secondary issue. The problem is more structural. Brown just doesn’t really like the military.

Brown created a committee to investigate a return of ROTC. The committee decided, basically, no. According to the report the committee issued:

The committee accepts the 1969 resolutions as a sound basis on which to reconsider Brown’s relationship with the ROTC.

The committee recommends continuing Brown’s cross-institutional arrangement with the Army ROTC program at Providence College.

A majority, but not all members, of the committee recommends that the President engage in conversations with the Department of Defense to learn how Brown students might participate in Naval or Air Force ROTC programs currently unavailable to them, and to bring any proposal she might make regarding the expansion of ROTC opportunities back to the Faculty.

So there will be no return of ROTC to campus, at least not yet.

The 1969 resolutions are the important thing here. These resolutions, issued during the Vietnam War, indicated that the Brown faculty were to determine these matters and ROTC instructors were not to be considered faculty and, essentially, ROTC study were not to be considered Brown courses.

Beyond that, as one Brown emeritus professor, Steve Rabson, explained to Elizabeth Murphy at Inside Higher Ed:

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” isn’t going to repair all of the military’s problems. He said he opposes a ROTC expansion in any form, because it would signal the university’s support of training students for “tragically misguided military policies for intervention abroad.”

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