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Editorial: Reconsidering ROTC

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Following the passage last year of legislation beginning the process of ending the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, many universities are now reconsidering their stance on the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. In his State of the Union address, President Obama said, “I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.” Now, a committee chaired by Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron will study the possibility of bringing ROTC back to Brown.

Brown originally stripped ROTC of its academic status — effectively removing it from campus — due to anti-Vietnam War sentiment. Over the years, opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” replaced Vietnam as the justification for keeping ROTC away. Yet the University scarcely revisited its policy despite this inconsistency. The past few senior classes have gone in and out of the Van Wickle Gates without having seen a formal reevaluation of Brown’s stance on ROTC, while our military continues to fight in two wars overseas. We are pleased that the University will finally tackle this issue.

The committee should examine ROTC’s compatibility with Brown’s mission and sovereignty. While Vietnam was the driving force behind ROTC’s removal, issues such as “granting faculty status to military officers” also played into the decision. Provost David Kertzer, in an e-mail to the editorial page board, further noted that “in the past, the faculty have voiced concerns” about the military’s requirements, like the one requiring the University to grant academic credit for ROTC classes. Furthermore, the military continues to deny transgendered people the chance to serve, which would keep ROTC at odds with Brown’s non-discrimination policy even after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ends.

We should consider potential benefits of having ROTC on campus as well. Attracting aspiring officers would bring an added dimension of diversity to campus. And bringing ROTC to Brown could help diversify the program’s ranks, where the Northeast is underrepresented.

But it is unlikely that ROTC will return to Brown soon, no matter what the committee recommends. Diane Mazur, author of “A More Perfect Military” and law professor at the University of Florida, told the editorial page board that the military might not invest in a new ROTC program at a school like Brown. “If ROTC is going to increase its footprint at more expensive private universities,” Mazur said, “its tuition scholarships are going to be more expensive.  And that doesn’t count the general overhead expense of establishing what is essentially a new academic department.”

Furthermore, the military would only establish ROTC at Brown if it saw sufficient student interest in the program. With so few Brunonians participating in ROTC at Providence College in recent years, it is doubtful we would make an appealing location for a new detachment.

Whether or not the committee recommends allowing ROTC back on campus, we hope they insist the University take more seriously its accessibility to students who want to pursue a military career. We are heartened that Bergeron suggested “more convenient transportation to PC and the possibility for academic credit for ROTC courses” in an interview with The Herald last year. But as it stands, Brown-caliber students who hope to go into the armed forces have many more attractive options, like the military academies or schools where they can participate in ROTC without having to travel off campus.

This process will affect perceptions of Brown, regardless of what the final decision is. We hope all students will study the issue and join the debate over this important choice.  

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. Send comments to

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