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Editorial: A plea for ROTC’s reinstatement

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yesterday, President Ruth Simmons recommended Brown not remove its campus ban on the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and instead pursue more cross-institutional avenues for participation. Though we are satisfied that this proposal was the product of a deliberative and inclusive process, we disagree with the result.

We support the reinstatement of ROTC at Brown as at least an officially recognized extracurricular activity. Freedom of choice and engaging with and respecting people from different backgrounds are ideals utterly integral to Brown’s identity as a liberal institution. Denying students the option to participate in and interact with the individuals and pursuits of their choosing is contrary to our core values.

There is another important issue that Simmons failed to mention. While bringing ROTC back would support a discriminatory institution, we feel that Brown’s lack of engagement with the military encourages other discriminatory feelings on campus. First, it reinforces the military’s stark and increasing representative geographic and socioeconomic gap. It is irresponsible to ignore the fact that our military is disproportionately composed of poor and southern young Americans. Banning ROTC also serves to produce a gross anti-military ideology. It is inappropriate to dismiss our military and its brave soldiers because we disagree with the wars that politicians order them to fight. Opposition to recent wars, or pacifism altogether, is an inappropriate and intellectually dissonant reason to reject a ROTC program that requires participation from no one. It is absurd to assert that making students ride a 6 a.m. bus and participate in ROTC at Providence College or other neighboring institutions, outside of the sight and minds of the Brown community, is a fair compromise.

The country and the LGBTQ community are ultimately best served by a military led by a plural, liberally educated officer corps. Though a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering is excellent preparation for a nuclear submarine commander, it is not the ideal background for top brass faced with complex geo-strategic concerns. Further, a more liberal rank and file makes for an environment more conducive to the ultimate acceptance of transgender members, thereby undercutting a key argument of opponents to full integration: that service members will not accept transgender people.

The military’s transgender discrimination policy, which runs counter to basic principles of equality, gives us pause. What’s more, accepting ROTC back onto campus would be a clear violation of Brown’s nondiscrimination policy. But as Simmons said in her report, we already have “partnerships” with many programs that “fall far short of our anti-discrimination policy” — namely, study abroad programs in countries with poor human rights records. Canceling all of these programs, which would also mean losing considerable funding from the federal government, which supports research and financial aid, would be a tremendous blow to the University. Furthermore, Simmons invokes the civil rights movement, noting that individuals must engage with “discriminatory institutions” in order to properly understand and change said institutions to produce a more just world. Simply boycotting the military is counterproductive.

For these reasons, we urge the Corporation and Simmons to pursue a policy of reinstating ROTC on Brown’s campus.

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

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