Interest in ROTC minimal at Brown despite debate at other Ivies

By
Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Reserve Officers Training Corps, abolished during the Vietnam War throughout most of the Ivy League, is sparking renewed controversy on several campuses over whether to reestablish their programs. But at Brown, the issue only persists through some limited student interest.

At Yale University, a Republican student organization hopes to get 2,000 student signatures in support of ROTC, the Yale Daily News reported.

Harvard and Columbia groups have also mounted substantial campaigns, with the Columbia newspaper appealing for the reestablishment of ROTC and former defense secretary and Harvard alum Caspar Weinberger getting involved in the push to bring the program back.

Buttressed by the Pentagon’s recent recommendation that Ivy League institutions investigate the possibility of reinstating ROTC, student and alumni groups are mobilized to demonstrate the necessity of a change.

“If there are groundswells forming (at Brown), we’re not aware of them,” said Carol Cohen, associate dean of the college and coordinator for ROTC.

Yet Brian McGuirk ’06 asked about the possibility of reviving ROTC during the question-and-answer session at the Feb. 1 Spring Semester Opening Address two weeks ago.

“People at Brown are the type of people who should be filling the military in large numbers,” McGuirk said. “I think the military is an institution we should be dedicated to repair and bring into the 21st century.”

Currently, only two Brown students are involved in the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps program, offered through a consortium with Providence College. During the past five years, approximately 10 others have made the trek across Providence to participate in rigorous weekly training exercises and defense classes.

ROTC was abolished at Brown in 1969, when the Faculty Student Committee passed a motion stipulating that ROTC could remain on campus only if ROTC professors abdicated their faculty status and the classes were stripped of credit. Not willing to operate under these terms, ROTC left campus. Numbers diminished drastically, from an average of approximately 100 Brown students enrolled at any given time during the 1960s to nearly none, said Dean of the College Paul Armstrong.

“It’s the incompatibility with the principles of a liberal arts education” that led to the ending of ROTC, Cohen said.

The Brown Corporation raised the issue again in 1981, but negotiations went nowhere, Armstrong said. While discussion has not resumed, the administration is striving to facilitate the ROTC experience.

“I think that students who want to go to ROTC, get a commission and get financial benefit should have the opportunity to do so,” Armstrong said. “There has been discussion about spreading awareness, and it’s appropriate that we make students aware of that opportunity.”

“I’ve always been a very patriotic American,” said Scott Quigley ’05, Battalion Commander for ROTC at Providence College. “After 9/11, something sparked in me.”

Michael McBride ’06 said he is not one of the “9/11 children.” “One of the values instilled in me was giving back to the community,” he said. “Poor people are often forcibly thrust into the army, so I felt that if I have the opportunity to go to college and get a degree, also being an officer in the army suited me nicely.”

McBride is a frontrunner for next year’s battalion commander. “The quality of the Brown student is superb,” said Lieutenant Colonel Steven McGonagle, commander of ROTC at Providence College. “I think ROTC brings a great deal of diversity and it brings the sort of values that I think most college institutions would like to embrace.”

ROTC enrollment numbers have diminished from 177,000 in 1967 to approximately 30,000. Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq have stimulated interest in ROTC at universities traditionally known for anti-war sentiment, McGonagle said.

Brown is resolute in its stance, unless the military is willing to make concessions, but it appears there are no signs of compromise.

“It’s really the antithesis of what Brown’s about,” Quigley said. “Not to say we want to militarize Brown or get a plethora of students to join. We just want to have the opportunity for one or two.”

While Brown does not offer credit for ROTC courses, the university does accept ROTC scholarships. In the case of McGuirk, his Navy ROTC scholarship was useless at Brown, which only offers the option for those interested in joining the army.

“I’m planning to go into the navy after college, and I could be going to Brown almost for free,” McGuirk said.

Spurred by student protests in the heat of the Vietnam War, the military’s recruiting arm has been severed since the 1960s at every Ivy League University except for Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, which still retain their programs, Armstrong said. Since then, ROTC has returned to Princeton University and Dartmouth College.

Based on the almost unanimously voiced condemnation of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, it will take a concerted effort from students, faculty and alums before ROTC is reinstated, Yale officials told the Yale Daily News.

The contentious policy, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, discriminates against openly gay and lesbian personnel, but this has not deterred the Yale Republicans. Despite the administration’s hesitance in light of this policy, the group continues to advocate for the opportunity to participate in the military – an institution almost entirely bereft of Americans educated at the country’s elite institutions.

“I think anything’s feasible, but the support to bring ROTC back to Brown is not there at this time,” McGonagle said. “It could be generated with the right variables in place, but there would have to be enough students who want to take ROTC and a groundswell of alumni support.”