University News

Simmons: No change to campus ROTC ban

By
Senior Staff Writer

President Ruth Simmons recommended the University not change its academic policies toward the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, according to a letter released to the community yesterday. Current policies do not permit ROTC’s presence on campus.

Though Simmons did not recommend changing University policy on the program, she did agree with the Committee on ROTC’s recommendation that the University reach out to the Department of Defense to determine whether Brown students could participate in Naval and Air Force ROTC programs at nearby campuses.

Currently, no institutions in Rhode Island provide Naval or Air Force ROTC programs, but Simmons said there is a nearby college currently exploring these options. Should one of these programs be approved, Brown could then pursue a partnership, Simmons said. The University currently has a partnership with Providence College that allows Brown students to participate in its Army ROTC program.

The Committee on ROTC, formed by Simmons in February to examine the University’s policy on ROTC, issued its report June 30. The report was made available to the community in September. Simmons’ response will go before the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, at its meeting this week.

The University resolved to ban ROTC’s presence on campus in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam War. Since the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, there has been much debate as to whether ROTC should be allowed back. Other Ivy League institutions such as Harvard and Yale have announced plans to reinstate ROTC programs on their campuses.

Simmons also recommended that exploration of off-campus ROTC partnerships coincide with vocal opposition from the Brown community to the military’s discrimination against transgender individuals.

“We must do all in our power as an institution to carry the message to Congress, the executive branch and the military establishment that the policy barring transgender individuals from military service must be changed,” she wrote.

There was no consensus among members of the Committee on ROTC on how the University should respond to the issue of discrimination, said Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron.

“I was upset to read that the president is expanding our involvement in ROTC despite the fact that the military and ROTC discriminate against transgender individuals, which goes against Brown’s code of conduct and our community values,” said Meredith Eptstein ’12, a member of the Coalition Against Special Privileges for ROTC.  

Still, Simmons’ letter “recognized that Brown has a commitment to its anti-discrimination policy,” said Madeleine Jennewein ’14, co-president of transgender advocacy group GenderAction. “I personally really like the recommendations she made.”

Simmons wrote the discrimination was not the driving force behind her decision but rather a “separate issue” that needs to be addressed. The University is involved with many other institutions that do not share Brown’s policies, she said, adding that the University already partners with the military, which provides funding for research.

While Joshua Posner ’71 supported the University’s 1969 ban on ROTC when he was an undergraduate, he said he now thinks Brown is isolating itself by not allowing the program on campus. “I think it is harmful to the students because it keeps that important element of our society further away,” he said.

But Simmons said the University’s main goal should be to offer opportunities for students interested in military service rather than establish a unit just for the sake of having one.

“At this particular time, there isn’t much of a demand for a unit on campus,” she said.

Simmons’ letter may not entirely put the debate over ROTC to rest for those who ardently support or oppose the program, as it neither rejects nor embraces military involvement in higher education. Her recommendations simply uphold the 1969 resolution that ROTC remain an extracurricular activity while calling for new off-campus opportunities beyond the Providence College program.

“I think it’s always good to have a point of closure, and I think the president’s letter helps bring, to some punctuation, the long conversation,” Bergeron said. “And that is important for the discourse on campus.”