As speakers at both national political conventions this summer pointed out, after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America really came together. None of the orators noted that despite the national unity, the ivory tower stood apart, particularly in its attitude towards U. S. military recruiters.
While undergraduates across the country expressed interest in signing up for the Reserve Officer Training Corps, these students were more likely than not unable to find a branch at their own alma mater. Three years after 9-11, despite student interest in the R. O. T. C., most schools do not have a branch on campus. Students receive scholarship money from R.O.T.C. in return for training and serving as military reservists.
Two-thirds of the military’s officers come from the R. O. T. C. program. The good news is that the proportion of schools offering R. O. T. C. is double what it was a decade ago. The bad news is that that means that one-fifth of colleges were offering R. O. T. C. in the 2003 compared to one-tenth in 1993.
Some schools are part of a consortium in which students can join R. O. T. C. units at other universities. Here in Washington, D. C., for example, George Washington University, Georgetown and Howard offer R. O. T. C. for different branches of the military. Howard, for instance, offers Air Force R. O. T. C. Students from the Catholic School of America and American University who want to sign up for R. O. T. C., which do not offer the program, can sign up at one of the other schools that does.
This becomes more problematic when students are in far flung geographic areas where commuting is more difficult, such as Massachusetts or Connecticut. “It is true that there are a handful of brave students at Harvard that are ROTC scholars, and it is true that Harvard is happy to cash their scholarship checks,” Rep. Chris Cox, R-Ca. pointed out, “but Harvard refuses to permit the ROTC program on campus and, therefore, the students have to go down the road to MIT, which will accept them.” Students from Yale have to travel 75 miles, one way, to the University of Connecticut, to find an R. O. T. C. unit.
Many schools will still not allow military recruiters anywhere near their campus. None of the schools in New York will permit R. O. T. C. to return to their hallowed halls.
The ban on R. O. T. C. began at many campuses during the Vietnam War. “In 1964, there were 268,000 ROTC students on America’s campuses,” Rep. Cox noted. “Today, it is down to 50,000, a decline of more than 80 percent.”
In recent, even more politically correct times, many school administrators refuse to allow R. O. T. C. recruiters on campus because of collegiate resentment at the so-called “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the military on homosexuality.
Columbia University carries this attitude to a vivid extreme. While Columbia’s masters make abundantly clear that R. O. T. C. is not welcome in their corner of Morningside Heights, a bondage club meets on campus regularly with the school’s blessing.
High-profile alumni of some of the institutions that will not participate in R. O. T. C. have complained bitterly about the exclusion of the military from their old schools. President Reagan’s attorney general, Edwin Meese, for one, was quite vocal about Yale’s exclusionary policies.
Before September 11, when the stance of college administrators towards R. O. T. C. was even frostier, the U. S. Congress passed an act that tied college and university funding to school administrators willingness to allow military recruiters on campus. Although barely enforced, schools did accommodate the Defense Department to a somewhat greater degree.
This year, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., introduced a bill which would make the tie between federal funding of higher education and R. O. T. C.’s welcome on campus even more explicit. The bill passed the U. S. House of Representatives and was sent to the U. S. Senate Armed Services Committee in April, where it still languishes.
Percentage of colleges and universities offering R. O. T. C.
source: calculations based on figures from The Chronicle of Higher Education.