Focus on: Brown and the military

33 years after ROTC, Brown and the military still on unsteady terms

By
Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The United States military has a low profile at Brown as well as at many other elite universities. The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a staple institution on college campuses across the nation, left Brown’s campus in 1972 over widespread student and faculty opposition to the Vietnam War. For many, especially in the wake of protests against the war in Iraq in recent years, the generally liberal atmosphere on College Hill does not seem wholly compatible with a military ethic.

But the military is here. Recruiting, while not as widespread as at many places, is active at Brown. Many Brown students and graduates choose to serve in the military, and at least one, Dimitrios Gavriel ’97, was killed in Iraq.

Brown students come to military service for different reasons and by different paths, while others question whether Brown’s mission is compatible with the military.

Recruiting at Brown

According to Barbara Peoples, associate director of the Career Development Center, the Marine Corps and the Army are the most active branches of the military on campus. The Marines have attended the CDC’s career fair every semester for the past three years and have held recruiting information sessions on campus twice this year. The Army has attended every recent career fair except in Spring 2004 but has not held other activities on campus. The Air Force last came to campus at a career fair in the spring of 2003, and the Navy has not recruited on campus in the last three years.

People “are initially surprised by how many (recruits) we get out of Brown,” said Capt. Brendan Fogherty, the Marines recruiter for Brown. “It’s been a very positive experience. I’ve been pleased with the caliber of qualified candidates we’ve gotten out of Brown University.”

He said the focus is on recruiting officers, all of whom are expected to have a college education.

“I don’t think the Marine Corps really recruits enlisted (soldiers) at Brown,” he said. “I don’t think they really see it as a viable source.”

Michael McBride ’06, a Brown student who serves as a cadet in Army ROTC at Providence College, agreed.

“Someone who has a college education, they have skills someone with a high school diploma doesn’t,” he said. “If you want to serve your country, if you have a college degree, you should join the officer corps,” he added.

But such recruiting does take place – Scott Ewing ’10 enlisted in the Army last year to finance his final year at Brown for which he will returnin the fall of 2009. Ewing, whocould not be reached for this article, entered with the Class of 2005.

In addition to recruiting graduates into officer training, Fogherty also runs the Platoon Leaders Class program at Brown and 18 other colleges. PLC allows interested students to go through two six-week training sessions during the summer at no expense. If they choose to join the Marines, upon graduating they are commissioned 2nd lieutenants and spend six months in basic infantry training. Students can then choose to go to flight school, law school or other specialized programs.

“I’d say there are students at Brown who want to serve, and I think the program is a great fit for them because there’s no commitment during the academic year” and no commitment until graduation, Fogherty said. Of the 19 schools at which he oversees PLC, he said, Brown is his biggest source of recruits, with eight students currently enrolled and another six applying this year.

Christopher Rigali ’06, a member of the PLC program, chose to attend Brown after being accepted at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., saying that military service “is just something I’ve always been interested in.” He found out about the program from his captain on the track team, Lt. Anthony Hatala ’04, who was commissioned upon graduation and is currently in flight school.

“I like how you don’t have to be pushed into it,” Rigali said, since students do not have to decide whether to join the Marines until graduation. “I think it’s a really good program to see if you’re interested in service,” he added.

“Originally, I knew I was going to serve after school,” said William Wilson ’06, who said he has thought about joining the military since he was a child. He said he appreciated the intense summer training as a chance “to test myself and push myself and see what I’m made of,” and plans to go to flight school once he joins to learn to fly helicopters.

Wilson said he thinks the PLC program is “better than ROTC because I can have a real college career,” with no obligations during the school year.

Though ROTC left Brown’s campus in 1972, since 1975 Brown students have been able to participate in the program at Providence College, across town from College Hill. This poses difficulties in terms of not only transportation but also time – ROTC cadets are required to participate in sunrise physical exercise sessions three times a week, engage in field training exercises three times a semester and attend military science class and laboratory on Wednesday afternoons, for which they receive no credit at Brown.

ROTC cadets are obligated to join the Army after graduating. But in return, the Army grants a scholarship covering the student’s full tuition and book fees, as well as a monthly $400 stipend, according to Lt. Col. Steven McGonagle, commanding officer and professor of military science at Providence College ROTC.

“The Brown students have to find their way to me,” McGonagle said, since he does no active recruiting at Brown.

But, he said, his Brown cadets are “the very best leaders of my battalion here,” calling them “really world-class people and great leaders.”

Currently only two Brown students are enrolled in ROTC, McGonagle said, with that number usually varying between one and four. But that appears to be down from past numbers – according to Deborah Kuklis ’88, a former ROTC cadet, there were half a dozen Brown cadets in her class.

Scott Quigley ’05 is the ROTC battalion commander, the top cadet position. He came to Brown after being accepted at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., because at “Brown I could be a college student, get a liberal education.” After his first year he felt “there was something missing” from his college experience, and after discovering the ROTC program at PC, he “fell in love with it.”

“I want to serve my country,” he said. “The military, as an officer, is what I want to do. It’s what I’m best at. … The overall experience (in ROTC), in short, has been a journey through leadership development, really, finding my style of leadership.”

Quigley said he does not feel uneasy joining the Army in a time of war. “As a professional, it’s my duty to carry out (President Bush’s) orders. So I have no qualms about going to Iraq, going to Afghanistan. That’s what I signed up for,” he said.

McBride, the other ROTC cadet from Brown, said he also “always wanted to serve in the military, and ROTC is the best way to do it.” He said he especially appreciated the “camaraderie you get (in training) – it’s like a sports team.”

“I get great kids from Brown, just not many of them,” McGonagle said.

Keeping a low profile

Elizabeth Sperber ’06 is a leader of a movement at Brown against military recruitment. She is coordinating efforts by Brown students to disrupt recruitment at locations in Providence, especially local low-income high schools, with the assistance of Derek Seidman GS and several professors.

“I think it’s a poverty draft,” she said, referring to military recruiters’ tactic of targeting low-income youth with promises of benefits and money for college. But, she said, disrupting recruiting at Brown “has not been a priority for me.”

“It would be a pretty trivial site, in terms of the numbers they’re getting from Brown,” she said – since the focus at Brown is on recruiting officers, the situation is far different than when the military is “looking for bodies,” when it targets low-income, usually minority, areas.

“Someone with a college education, if they chose to enlist in the military … the chances that they’re going to be discouraged by counter-recruitment is much less, because in my mind they’ve put a lot more thought into it,” Sperber said. “I’m not particularly concerned about recruitment at Brown because of the numbers. It’s not as relevant as what happens down the street” in Providence, she added.

McGonagle explained that he thinks “there aren’t probably as many kids going to Brown with the proclivity to get in the mud and lead soldiers,” since Brown is an academically elite school and is regarded as quite liberal.

But despite an atmosphere that does not necessarily seem fertile for military recruitment, most students participating in either the ROTC or PLC programs said the attitudes of their peers have been positive.

“For the most part, Brown students have mostly shown a curiosity … (and) a cautious support, almost a respect,” Quigley said.

“Most people are pretty surprised, but are proud of me and supportive,” Rigali said.

“I think most people at Brown can express their opinions in a respectful and appropriate way,” he added, explaining that he believes most students separate their criticism of overall policy from the soldiers who carry it out, a sentiment echoed by several other students.

But the relatively low profile of military activity may contribute to this uneasy acceptance.

When the Army recruiters came to campus this semester for the career fair, they did not wear uniforms, as the Marines did, but instead wore polo shirts with Army emblems, according to Juan Huezo ’05, who attended the fair.

Robert Cybulski ’00, a former ROTC cadet, said that when he wore his uniform on campus Wednesdays before going to PC for training and class, he always drew a number of looks and “could definitely feel like an oddball.”

Wilson echoed that sentiment, saying, “The thing about PLC is that so few people know about it,” but noted that he gets more looks and questions when he wears a Marines sweatshirt on campus.

“I’m sure (the uniform) does make a difference,” Rigali said.

Lawrence Brennan ’88, a former ROTC cadet and Army Reserve member, said he experienced actual hostility on campus. He wrote in an e-mail, “We couldn’t wear our uniforms near campus because doing so risked creating a confrontation or altercation, and on occasion that happened. Once as a freshman (pre-ROTC), I returned late one night to my room in Perkins from my Army Reserve unit and someone started yelling obscenities at me. I actually heard him say ‘baby-killer!’ “

“I laughed then, but realized as a ROTC cadet that we couldn’t risk any kind of incident in uniform – we and the program would have been the losers, no matter what, and there were enough people around school willing to create a confrontation, so we just stayed out of our uniforms on or near campus,” Brennan added.

The military and the liberal arts

At the heart of the ambiguous relationship between Brown and the military is the question of how to reconcile a liberal arts education such as the one offered at Brown with the aims of the military.

On one hand, many former and current students who have served or plan to serve in the military said Brown’s liberal arts education makes for better military officers.

“I don’t like the sort of separation of America’s intellectual elite and the military,” said Huezo, who was a ROTC cadet last year but withdrew due to health issues. If the two were combined, he said, the military and society would be served far better.

Huezo said he is considering joining the Army after graduation, despite his setback in ROTC.

“I feel like a liberal education … just broadens your mind and helps you become a better critical decision maker,” important skills for a military officer, McBride said.

“My Brown experience has been invaluable to my military career,” wrote Maj. Laura Klein ’89 in an e-mail from Mosul, Iraq, where she is deployed with the Army. “My classes, professors and fellow students helped me develop the critical thinking skills demanded not only of an attorney, but anyone who chooses to lead, in whose hands the lives of soldiers are placed and whose orders soldiers must follow without question.”

But Catherine Lutz, professor of anthropology and an anti-war activist, said she was not convinced by these sentiments.

“To me, it sounds like the first thing you get taught the first day of ROTC” is that a liberal arts education will help you in the military, the expert on militarization and war said.

“Public and private universities shouldn’t be in the business of making better officers,” Lutz continued, saying the missions of the military and a liberal arts education are fundamentally different.

She specifically noted the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which bans openly gay people from serving, as discriminatory and incompatible with the openness and tolerance of many universities. That policy has been at the center of much debate over the place of the military on college campuses, including recent debate over the role of ROTC at Princeton University, according to the Daily Princetonian.

William Keach, professor of English and also an anti-war activist, agreed.

“I’ve just always thought that academic environments are not appropriate places for the military to be,” he said, his beliefs stemming from his opposition to U.S. military actions, especially in Iraq. “From that fundamental perspective, what the education level and cultural sensitivity of the people carrying out this occupation are is irrelevant,” he said.