The debate about bringing the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps back to campus has left two concerns — profit and prestige — unmentioned. In my analysis, these are the implicit justifications for considering ROTC’s return, though students have not been included in this part of the discussion — surprise. Harvard is welcoming ROTC back, and if a profit- and prestige-generating machine like Harvard decides to do something, endowment-envious administrators and Corporation members pay attention.
Parallel to President Ruth Simmons’ jet-setting attempts to bring Brown greater international name recognition, ROTC’s return would effect a rebranding of the sort desired by certain alums. Last spring, The Herald reported alums making just this argument at a dinner discussion on the question, saying that “the prominence of Brown ROTC alums in the military ranks would bring greater recognition of University excellence.” (“‘Reserve’-ing judgment for ROTC,” April 29)
The potential for squeezing cash out of ROTC should not be underestimated either. On the one hand, the elevated prestige would boost donations. On the other, ROTC grants scholarships. People usually use this fact to argue that, were Brown to host ROTC, more economically disadvantaged students could attend.
This argument has two flaws. If it is true, then it consigns economically disadvantaged students to military service, a career choice they might not make had they access to the multiplicity of options we are told a Brown degree makes available. The second is that it misses how things actually work — Brown’s budget for financial aid is based on the percentage of students in need it predicts it will admit, and the University claims to meet full demonstrated need.
Only changes in admissions policy — like removing the requirement for standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT, which studies have shown to have race, gender and class biases — would substantially alter the demographics of admitted students. All ROTC scholarships would do is subsidize the University’s other budgetary priorities — priorities that are increasingly focused on generating profits at the expense of public goods, as others have argued elsewhere.
While budget cuts at the U.S. federal level loom, demanding more money from the military for scholarships seems unacceptable. We should demand that programs without strings, like Pell grants, should be protected, alongside demanding significant reductions to the military budget.
There are two other pieces of the ROTC debate that are seldom acknowledged. Despite calls that Brown not limit the individual freedoms of its students, no such limitations are currently in place. Students can already participate in ROTC through the program at Providence College. Though available, few students choose this opportunity, while calls for ROTC’s return oddly have yet to come from students actually interested in enrolling.
I consider a second exclusion to be far more egregious. Regardless of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” discrimination remains institutional practice in the military’s treatment of LGBTQ folks. While discrimination is undesirable on its own, discriminatory practices also violate the University’s Code of Student Conduct, and ought to prevent ROTC from returning. Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice still prohibits sodomy, defined as “unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex.” As Columbia undergraduate Noah Baron recently wrote in the Huffington Post, “While sexual conduct for heterosexuals remains a possibility, the same cannot be said for gay and lesbian servicemembers.” Meanwhile, the military still prevents transgender people from joining, considering their gender identities and expressions “disorders.”
Other forms of oppression and inequality permeate our military. In 2009, CBS News reported that “one in three female soldiers will experience sexual assault while serving in the military, compared to one in six women in the civilian world.” Last week, the New York Times reported that a “federal lawsuit filed (recently) accuses the Department of Defense of allowing a military culture that fails to prevent rape and sexual assault” while consistently “mishandling cases … brought to its attention.” Also in 2009, ABC News reported that “among officers, just 3 percent of whites report experiencing discrimination within their current unit, compared with 27 percent of black and Hispanic officers.”
Advocates of ROTC’s return argue that circumstances are different today, and this is doubtless. The state has found a way to partially disarm supposed threats to so-called traditional family values by permitting some, though not all, queer people to carry arms — as long as they don’t have sex! — in wars that the majority of Americans oppose. What has not changed is the serious harm to all communities that our military creates at home and abroad, to the benefit of an increasingly privileged few.
Julian Park ’12 is a member of the Coalition Against Special Privileges for ROTC. He may be contacted at email@example.com.