Morris ’88: Don’t Ask, Don’t ROTC: Why it’s still a bad idea

Guest Columnist
Friday, February 11, 2011

Over winter break, Congress finally eliminated the discriminatory doctrine of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We should be proud that one more vestige of legal discrimination has finally fallen away. Over many years, opponents of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps have asserted that the University should not endorse anything or anyone that officially discriminates against homosexuals.

However, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was never the strongest argument against ROTC at Brown. Instead, a ROTC unit would tear at the very fabric that makes the University what it is. A ROTC program would have strict requirements that completely oppose the philosophy and actuality of the New Curriculum and the idea of a liberal education. Naval ROTC — which would be the most likely version at Brown, both because Brown had a Naval ROTC unit from 1940 until 1972 and because the army already has a ROTC unit at Providence College — requires that students in the program take two semesters of calculus, two semesters of physics, two semesters of English grammar and composition, one semester of foreign language and two courses on national security policy or American military affairs. As all courses taken at Brown are electives — not counting concentration requirements — we would have a requirement where an outside entity, the military, would prescribe at least nine courses that a cadet must take.

Eligibility within the ROTC program is dependent upon physical evaluations and also has an academic component. Even if failed courses showed up on our transcripts, the consequences would be relatively light compared to failing a course as a ROTC cadet. ROTC allows any cadet to drop out — or be kicked out — after their first year with relatively little penalty.

However, if you leave the program the first day of sophomore year — voluntarily or otherwise — and received ROTC scholarship money, you must reimburse the military for their expenses. Failing a class could quite literally cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

Worse still, should you leave ROTC after the start of your junior year for any reason, that early exit is grounds for immediate call up to active duty as an enlisted person. Potentially, you could be sent to war and lose your life because you failed one too many courses at Brown — or ironically, because you decided you did not like a military life.

While it is no longer legal for the military and ROTC units to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, ROTC has other rules that prevent certain classes of people from joining, or force them to leave the program, on a discriminatory basis. International students are specifically prohibited from joining except by specific recommendation by the Secretary of Defense.

Even then, they are usually ineligible for financial assistance. ROTC also has height, weight and age requirements that could prohibit you from joining — or in the case of weight, could potentially get you kicked out. Is there any other class, concentration, committee or extracurricular group at Brown that does not allow international students, fat students or Resumed Undergraduate Education students? Would we tolerate such a program to exist?

ROTC rules also require that the commander of a unit must be given faculty status, even if the ROTC courses themselves do not count as regular, academic courses. Since when does the University allow military personnel — or any outside organization for that matter — to determine who is and who is not a faculty member at the University, with all rights and privileges thereof?

At Brown, we are successful because we live in a flexible atmosphere in which the questioning of what we learn causes intellectual and personal growth. We respect and encourage differences of opinion and personal initiative. We emphasize an individualistic, yet mutually cooperative, learning environment. The structure of the military and of ROTC is totally antithetical to these ideals. The military thrives on a mind-set of unquestioning obedience to authority. Personal initiative is discouraged, and people who act on deviant opinions are often punished. On certain issues, if a ROTC cadet’s personal feelings conflict with military policy, he or she may hesitate before speaking publicly on those issues. He or she might feel afraid of consequences — which, clearly, can have serious implications.

Bringing ROTC to Brown would rip away many of the principles we hold dear. Because ROTC prescribes a core curriculum of nine courses, it does not truly give its students freedom of opportunity. Consequently, these students are discouraged from a liberal course of study. The prescribed academic courses — both inside and outside of ROTC-specific courses — is oil on the New Curriculum’s water. The prevailing attitude of the military discourages freedom of independent thought that is so central to a Brown education. Going through a ROTC program at Brown would therefore quite literally make the Brown experience not the Brown experience at all.


Dave Morris ’88 is an alum.

  • Sean

    You argue against ROTC because failing out of Brown or gaining excessive weight could mean being required to pay back money or, failing that, being required to serve as an enlisted servicemember. I don’t understand the problem. ROTC cadets/midshipmen sign a contract with certain stipulations. Not much different from any other contract that require repayment of some kind. Students do this all the time, in the case of loans and certain grants for example.
    Or what about Brown’s early decision program, which requires students to attend Brown if they are accepted. It isn’t directly analogous, but it does serve to place severe restrictions on students academic freedoms. What if a student gets into a much better school, like Harvard for example? Do you decry Brown for forcing said student to attend Brown anyway?

  • pjny1980

    Maybe Brown should not admit aspiring physicians because premed requirements stipulate that undergraduates take numerous courses outside their concentration.

  • jim

    your argument that ROTC limits academic freedom seems to be conradictory. You say it takes away the options a student has academically, yet you are arguing to take away the option of partipating in ROTC. What if a student is willing to take on the academic requirements that ROTC has? These classes are meant to develop them so that we can have officers of the highest quality in our military. You might as well take away majors because they have academic requirements. Students choose to participate in ROTC just like students choose a major that has classes they want to take. Its a shame that you want to take away an incredible opportunity for a student to develop into an officer and a gentleman and to lead some of our nation’s finest men and women. Also, you say that “ROTC rules also require that the commander of a unit must be given faculty status, even if the ROTC courses themselves do not count as regular, academic courses.” What is the huge problem with this? They aren’t getting paid by the school when they are given this faculty status; they’re getting paid by the military.

    • Andrew

      I call shenanigans on this man. Not on you, Jim, but on the article’s author. ROTC was, is, and never will be a detrimental thing, because there are certain guidelines to go by and rules to follow if you want to succeed. I mean, thank god this man did not make the “ROTC trains students to be sent off to war” argument. My ROTC instructor repeatedly drills it into our heads that war is a human tragedy, it only serves to consume and destroy everything in its path. However, ROTC has military-esque guidelines which prep students for real life, where people will scream in your face and certain deadlines will be met.