ROTC exchange with PC down to a lone student

By
Monday, November 26, 2007

Among Brown’s nearly 6,000 undergraduates, Adam Swartzbaugh ’09 is unique – he’s the lone student currently enrolled in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Providence College.

Since 1971, when Brown’s own ROTC program was ended amid protests against the Vietnam War, the Providence College’s Patriot Battalion has served students interested in preparing for military leadership. But since the mid-1990s, Brown undergrads’ participation in the program has dwindled down to almost nothing.

Last spring, some debate over the program arose on campus as a student group formed to advocate for ROTC’s return to campus, while others came out against the idea.

Currently, fewer Brown students participate in ROTC than students at any other school in the Ivy League, which itself trails other institutions across the country in participation figures. Among the Ancient Eight, only Cornell and Princeton universities have an active Army ROTC program on campus (the University of Pennsylvania has a Navy ROTC program) – the others, like Brown, send students to programs at nearby schools.

ROTC programs require students to complete military leadership courses, field exercises and physical training while in school and pledge to serve in the officer corps following graduation. ROTC students are eligible to receive merit scholarships up to full tuition.

ROTC’s purpose – according Lt. Col. Paul Dulchinos, who heads the Providence College program – is to inject leaders who have a liberal arts education into an officer corps that otherwise would be drawn almost exclusively from the service academies. Since its founding over a century ago, the ROTC model has spread to schools throughout the country and currently produces nearly two-thirds of the military’s leadership, Dulchinos said.

At Brown, the lack of interested students on campus, lack of academic credit for what can be a significant off-campus extracurricular commitment and minimal efforts to publicize the program may have all contributed to recently sparse participation in ROTC.

In the future, Swartzbaugh and Dulchinos said they hope that increased recruitment efforts on campus and more identification with the program’s mission among University leaders will reenergize the program. In the meantime, Swartzbaugh is the program.

An Army of One

At first glance, it seems no small wonder that few students are choosing to follow in Swartzbaugh’s footsteps. Between the five courses he is currently taking at Brown, a master’s program he is applying to and his ROTC responsibilities – three mornings a week of physical training, a course on leadership, a weekly practical “lab” exercise, occasional weekend field exercises and, as a junior, a range of organizational duties – sleep and social time can be hard to come by.

Having a car and an on-campus parking space makes the five weekly cross-town trips to Providence College less burdensome. Without a parking space last semester, he said, he racked up about $500 in parking tickets.

“Right now it’s pretty stressful,” he said.

But the experience will ultimately be worth it, Swartzbaugh said, and the skills he is learning help him manage the workload. Though his goal is not a military career, but to attend graduate school and ultimately be a policymaker, he said ROTC teaches him leadership skills and self-discipline that other aspects of his education do not.

“The focus is on interpersonal leadership,” he said. “You’re trained to do a lot of different things all at once. … We learn to lead not only others but to lead yourself – to believe that you can do things that you otherwise couldn’t.”

Swartzbaugh plans to spend six years in the military after he graduates, and he hopes to “acquire as many different levels of leadership as possible” by the time he finishes.

Ultimately, he said, he expects his military experience will combine with other aspects of his education to help him to work more effectively on his first passion – disability rights and other human rights issues.

“It’s a means to an end,” he said. It adds “tools to my tool box.”

Swartzbaugh’s interest in the military was first sparked when he lived in Thailand for several months before coming to Brown. There, he met special forces officers combating human trafficking and was impressed with their ability to achieve meaningful goals.

“I wanted to be able to make things happen,” he said.

‘The minimal required relationship’

The only Brown student in the ROTC program, Swartzbaugh is enrolled with Providence College students and a few others who make the trek from nearby schools, including Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island College and, for the first time this year, the Rhode Island School of Design. With the exception of RISD, other schools in the area all grant some kind of academic credit for participating in the program. Brown has not since the program left campus in the 1970s.

“It’s basically the minimal required relationship,” Dulchinos said. “It’s empty in that there’s not a true partnership.”

Brown provides the program with directory information and assists Dulchinos in sending recruiting letters to students – one was sent to all sophomores earlier this month – but Dulchinos and Swartzbaugh said they believe the University could better recognize the value that increasing participation in the current program could have.

Both emphasized the importance of having graduates of Brown and other liberal institutions serving in leadership positions in the military, contributing to a greater diversity of perspectives among decision-makers.

Yet students who advocated against the ROTC in last spring’s short-lived debate argued that supporting a military program reflects support of violent conflict and tacit approval of its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, under which openly gay men and women are not allowed to serve.

Christina Furtado, assistant dean for upper class studies and the ROTC liason in the dean of the College’s office, said Brown does make an effort to support students who are interested in ROTC.

“We do our best to make sure that our students who are interested in ROTC are not discouraged by the fact we don’t have a program here,” she said.

Though Furtado said Brown tries to “foster” student interest in the program, both Dulchinos and Swartzbaugh said Brown could do more.

Dulchinos said he would like to see Brown’s admission give weight to students who have signaled an interest in ROTC by applying for and receiving a four-year scholarship for the program, noting that such students are rarely accepted to Brown. He would also like more active cooperation in efforts to recruit students on campus.

Swartzbaugh believes Brown officials need to understand the benefits a greater ROTC presence on campus could have in diversifying campus viewpoints.

“There’s obviously an interest by the Providence College ROTC program to get Brown students involved. It hasn’t made a lot of headway because there isn’t a lot of support for it on campus,” Swartzbaugh said. “It just kind of comes back to this fundamental question of policy.”

“The only way that Brown University and ROTC are going to foster some sort of relationship is if each gives and takes a little bit,” he said. “That’s been the story since the beginning.”