Park ’12: ROTC expansion threatens the integrity of our community

Opnions Columnist
Monday, September 19, 2011

The Brown Committee on ROTC’s recommendation that the University seek an expanded relationship with the U.S. military must be seen for what it really is: a recommendation to fundamentally jeopardize the openness and safety of the Brown community.

It is worth clarifying that the committee was not unified in this recommendation. As Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron, committee chair, informed the Brown University Community Council last week when I asked what the exact split was, only six of 10 voting members voted for this recommendation.

Many proponents will gesture toward the report itself, which highlights strong alumni support — 77 percent of those surveyed — for “Brown serving as a host campus for ROTC.” The majority of students polled supports either maintaining or expanding the University’s relationship with ROTC in some form, and 30 percent of students oppose expansion.

Despite the high visibility given to the polls in the report, these polls were “informal” and voluntary unscientific surveys.

Several of the most concerning implications of the committee’s recommendation, which highlight the closeness of the vote, can be found elsewhere in its report.

According to the report, the Solomon Amendment, a 1996 piece of federal legislation, “allows the Secretary of Defense to deny (all federal) funding to any institution of higher learning that prohibits ROTC programs or military recruiters on its campus.” Brown’s relationship with Providence College — where our students participate in Army ROTC — has kept us funded. As a footnote in the report mentions, one member of the committee cautioned that “if the University were to expand its current relationship with ROTC, any decision to reduce that relationship at a later date would violate the Solomon Amendment.”

In preparation for this column, I sought to speak with the four members of the committee who were against the recommendation to investigate expansion. All but one were either unable to respond or had “no comment.”

Graduate student representative Sean Dinces GS wrote in an email that he hopes “students and faculty take the time to comb through the report in detail. I’m pleased the report mentions issues like the high degree of uncertainty surrounding what institutional resources Brown would be obligated to give the military if it expands its relationship with ROTC, but a casual reader could easily miss points like this.”

When asked about why he and the other three members dissented, Dinces wrote that there was a lot of overlapping reasoning, but “each member emphasized different concerns. For me, it boiled down to two main issues. First, there is a categorical conflict between Brown’s Code of Conduct and the exclusion of transgender individuals from the military. If discrimination against lesbians and gays was sufficient for Brown to take a stand on this issue, then discrimination against the trans community should be as well.

“Second, we still have very little information about the concrete terms that an expanded relationship would take. There is a very real possibility that it would entail the dedication of University resources to the military, and to me the notion of Brown handing over resources to such a generously funded government institution at a time when the University is so vocal about budgetary constraints would be a tough pill to swallow. If the decision to expand can’t be taken back because of the Solomon Amendment, then the Brown community needs to know the exact terms.”

In a recent presentation to the Graduate Student Council on the report, Dinces also informed his peers that the committee “had some issues with getting basic information from ROTC representatives,” pointing to the denial of a request to give the committee program syllabi. This refusal to issue syllabi could seem inconsequential, but the opacity of military institutions that this demonstrates draws one’s attention to the incompatibility of such institutions and the spirit of openness and free inquiry so central to Brown.

For example, ROTC scholarship allocation and the requirements of the Naval program effectively close off Brown’s open curriculum. As the FAQs section appended to the report makes clear, the Navy has course requirements for its ROTC participants. Thus, the extracurricular nature claimed by the report is dubious at best. Furthermore — and this is not in the report — ROTC scholarships for the Army, Navy and Air Force are issued based on “Academic Discipline Mix” criteria that prefer students studying sciences, technology, engineering or mathematics.

While the report claims that deeming ROTC an extracurricular activity reinforces principles of faculty governance, this is only half true. Although calling ROTC extracurricular means that faculty continue to govern the curriculum and faculty hiring, it effectively limits their governance — which is affirmed in such documents as the Plan for Academic Enrichment  — over everything else and indirectly challenges both curricular and instructional oversight for any program the administration deems “extracurricular.”

In short, the ROTC report’s conclusions are a blank check to the administration to circumvent faculty decision making, promoting an irreversible decision that could expend overstretched university resources. It would undoubtedly run roughshod over the already under-protected and under-recognized rights of Brown’s transgender community members and threaten the integrity of the open curriculum.



Julian Park ’12 also opposed ROTC on the grounds that it promotes overt militarism in an already too covertly militarized university. For more information email