Mills ’15: Who needs whom?

Opinions Columnist
Monday, March 10, 2014

In January 2011, then-President Ruth Simmons organized a committee to explore the possibility of reorganizing a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps unit on the Brown campus. It was a response to the repeal of the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation and a challenge by President Obama in his State of the Union address to “all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.”

The committee compiled a comprehensive report covering the long and distinguished history of martial education at the University, the 1969 resolutions that forced the ROTC programs off campus, the current status of the debate and recommendations. In her response to the report, President Simmons supported reaching out to the Department of Defense to expand off-campus ROTC offerings to Brown students. Though many colleges and universities responded to Obama’s challenge, Brown is now the only Ivy League institution without an on-campus ROTC unit.

That was two and a half years ago. Little has been done since. The only step in that direction I am aware of was the creation of Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs, which has a small office in J. Walter Wilson and a lone part-time staffer.

Brown’s lack of urgency in addressing the recommendations and the tone of the original report suggest arrogance on our part, as if people feel we don’t have much to gain by bringing the military closer to Brown. I couldn’t disagree more.

This semester, I shopped ANTH 1232: “War and Society.” Early on, the professor asked for a show of hands: Who in the room had served in the military? Were there any veterans in the room? Not one of the 50 or so students raised their hand. The professor then went on to say she had expected as much. I was disappointed. I don’t doubt the ability of the professor to lead the class, but in a class about war, I felt that somehow I was being cheated out of a fuller discussion, that valuable viewpoints had been lost. When we performed brief interviews on each other, almost no students could claim to have had significant contact with the military in their lives.

I know there are student veterans at Brown, and I hope they are as proud to go here as we are to have them here. But doesn’t this expose a weakness of ours, that we are so distant from something so critical to our understanding of the world? Is it a chink in the wonderful diversity that we pride ourselves on?

I also know that inviting ROTC back to campus doesn’t necessarily increase the number of student veterans. But no one can say the two aren’t paired issues. While I’m not a veteran, I can imagine that it definitely sends a message to those applying to colleges. I am confident, however, that that message is not indicative of how most Brown students and alums feel. In addition to history, the report included polls of both alums and students. 60 percent of alums reported they were “strongly in favor” of hosting ROTC on campus, and 31 percent of students supported taking steps to bring (ROTC) back to campus. 55 percent of students reported they wanted the University to “support” ROTC for its students in some fashion.

There is also a financial aspect. ROTC offers scholarships to many of its participants. Many people who could otherwise not afford to attend college are able to do so on ROTC scholarships, and with Brown’s lackluster financial aid, the lack of ROTC can unfortunately discourage students from applying — a further loss of diversity and opinions.

Currently, Brown students who want to participate in Army, Navy or Air Force ROTC have no options. They are forced to commute to Providence College for classes and exercises, and they receive no credit or official recognition from Brown.

Some students might decry a closer connection with the military on the grounds that Brown should maintain a sort of neutrality when it comes to armed conflict. I would remind them that Brown annually takes in $9 to $11 million in research grants from the Department of Defense. Historically, there has also been an argument that the structured nature of military learning and instruction would be antithetical to the goals of the New Curriculum. For an on-campus ROTC unit to be considered, the University would probably have to grant a few military officers faculty status and allow them to teach the ROTC curriculum. I would ask: Is an increase in academic options antithetical to goals of diversity, openness and free inquiry?

I challenge the University to open its gates to ROTC. Opening our campus to ROTC would help increase the diversity of opinions and perspectives where it is most needed — in our classrooms. On-campus ROTC would expand opportunities for our students and send a strong message of support to student veterans and prospective student veterans alike. It is not the military that needs Brown University — it is Brown University that needs the military.



Walker Mills ’15 is enrolled in a commissioning program with the United States Marine Corps and can be contacted at


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  1. angry comment section regular says:

    good stuff. i’ve always found it difficult to imagine any significant downside to our bringing ROTC to campus. great point re: DoD funds

  2. Guess we have to do this again.

    It really, really sucks that Brown lacks the diversity that the military could potentially provide. And that money is real, good money. Totally true.

    But, you know, the military does more than provide diversity for your edification. They build canals and bomb villages and everything in between. Some of us don’t want to contribute to the war effort because the war effort is deadly and awful. Sucks that you were “cheated out of your discussion” but some Pakistanis are cheated out of their homes and relatives by the military you want so badly to support. We take their money (and the DOD grants are, yeah, generally a problem, although we’re not doing classified research) and we are complicit. We let in ROTC, we’re more complicit.

    And if you think the “open curriculum” is about having faculty members who report to generals, well, that’s a pretty crazy thing to think.

    • Dear “Ugh,” I don’t understand your logic. Complicit to what
      exactly? I am against War but I also realize that it is a reality to the human
      condition. We cannot wish it away. Therefore, if we want unavoidable wars to be
      won and conducted as effectively as possible, and if we want our elected
      leaders to avoid needless wars and/or we expect them and our military leaders to
      avoid costly mistakes in the conduct of war, shouldn’t we encourage our best
      and brightest students to understand war and our war making capabilities and
      limitations? Shouldn’t we encourage Brown students who desire to become
      commissioned officers in the military to follow their dreams? Who are we to discourage
      a student’s career choice by banning ROTC because we are antiwar?

      “Here we go again” indeed. The 1960s are over; we should have learned some lessons from the unfortunate manner we conducted ourselves towards ROTC programs – in the case of Brown University, this has gone on for more than 40 years. What did punishing and ridiculing, and eventually banning, ROTC have to do with preventing or stopping war? Nothing. Denying college students who desired to serve in the military that opportunity punishes students – who are not even in the military – not the people responsible for starting wars. If you want to stop war and /or ensure there is more canal building than bombing, focus your attention on the civilian representatives in Congress. Isolating a professional officer corps from Brown graduates is counterproductive to a goal I think you and I share – needless loss of life.

      Don’t take my word for it; here is some sage advice from Thucydides,
      “A nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors
      will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools.”

      • “Shouldn’t we encourage Brown students who desire to become commissioned officers in the military to follow their dreams? Who are we to discourage a student’s career choice by banning ROTC because we are antiwar?”

        I truly don’t see how this follows. Any student is free to enlist in the military, ROTC or not. Say Goldman Sachs were to start a Investment Banker Program on college campuses, by which upon graduation, students in that program get parachuted in a semi high-ranking position within the company. In addition, senior investment bankers in Goldman Sachs would be entitled to faculty positions under this program. If Brown were to ban this program from campus, would you then say that we are “discouraging a student’s career choice by banning the Investment Banker Program because we are anti-Wall Street”?

        You might object that Goldman Sachs is a private entity, and thus should not be entitled to the same “privileges” the military has. Then what about the State Department, or the FDA? Should they be able to establish their own ROTC-like programs as well? If not, why not? Is the military sui generis in this regard, and if so, why?

        • I see the source of some of this confusion. Becoming a commissioned officer takes a bit more time and effort than enlisting at the local recruiter’s office. The duties and responsibilities of an officer – AKA the “semi high-ranking person” who is responsible for the lives of their units and the protection of the nation – require an education not just basic training. This is not dissimilar to most contemporary professions.
          I’m not saying that Brown, or similar elite universities, should be required to provide military science and leadership (MSL) course but the reasons not to should be a lot more sophisticated that “we’re anti-war” or “let those kids go somewhere else . . . because we’re antiwar.” Your Goldman Sachs example is interesting, but you’re missing the point, the B school already provides relevant education and training sought after by that profession and the various degrees on campus provide
          appropriate preparation for a successful career (or at least entrance into) in the FDA or State Department – all taught be experts in their filed. Back to Goldman Sachs, they don’t have to have a program on campus; they bring students to their workplaces as interns. If Brown discouraged students from participating in internships I wouldn’t complain that they are anti-Wall Street, I’d complain that they are disadvantaging their students.

          I just don’t understand what is so scary about ROTC. Is ROTC going to militarize a campus? Of course not, President Wilson established ROTC to liberalize the military. Moreover, perhaps we’d go to war less often if our leaders knew some the soldiers they were casually sending to battle or at least knew something about what it means to commit the nation to war. On our
          elite campuses, ROTC might be the only exposure to the military the majority of the student body ever has. Some of them will be the very people committing the nation to war one day.

          • “Back to Goldman Sachs, they don’t have to have a program on campus; they bring students to their workplaces as interns. If Brown discouraged students from participating in internships I wouldn’t complain that they are anti-Wall Street, I’d complain that they are disadvantaging their students.”

            Couldn’t the same be said for the military as well? The various service branches can (and do) go to career fairs in colleges for recruitment. Brown is not banning the military from doing that. The salient question is what necessitates military presence in the form of faculty appointments and the awarding of course credits? It can’t be just because ROTC provides a form of career training that is otherwise unavailable at Brown, given the fact that Brown explicitly steers clear of any sort of pre-professionalism. That is why we don’t have, say, a journalism concentration, or (despite your misimpression) a business school. If the threshold for bestowing departmental status at Brown is “anything that is not currently covered under the expertise of our existing faculty”, then I think we’re going to see a deluge of new departments and faculty members.

            Being a member of a university’s faculty comes with certain rights and responsibilities, and I don’t think we should be handing these positions out willy-nilly to military generals. In addition, military science courses have not demonstrated themselves to be sufficiently rigorous enough to be included in Brown’s curriculum.

            I definitely don’t think having ROTC back would militarize our campus. But I’m sure we agree that there are issues beyond that, as outlined above. Also, note also that ROTC cadets have, by definition, never been to war. So to they extent that Brown students are being additionally exposed to the military, it’s not much beyond reading the news and staying generally informed of things.

            One last point, the notion that the few tens of officers graduating from the Ivy League is going to “liberalize” the military is really somewhat patronizing, and probably untrue.

          • First, I think President Wilson’s goal to ensure West Point and Annapolis – although great institutions – were not the only source of officer commissions has been met. ROTC accounts for the vast majority of the officers entering in the military every year. I was not trying to imply that bringing ROTC to Brown would somehow liberalize the military. The point of the article is that Brown is the only Ivy League school still maintaining an outdated approach to ROTC.

            As far as allowing experienced officers with advanced degrees to serve as the professor of military science, who else would be qualified to teach mil science and leadership courses than an expert of that field? I think a little research on your part will show that the selection of that person – a lieutenant colonel has between 18 and 20 years of experience – is not random and nothing is “handed out willy-nilly.” It will also highlight that all but a handful of universities grant academic credit for MLS courses, including schools that are academically ranked ahead of Brown.

            Lastly, I cannot say for sure what the mil recruiters at career fairs at Brown are offering, but unless they are trying to find undergraduates interested in doing ROTC while in grad school – one with access to ROTC – or they are looking for students who want to go to medical school, they are likely there to enlist people not put them in as officers (see my previous comment addressing the difference).

        • To bolster some of David’s assertions:

          Many people do not qualify for FinAid under the broken FAFSDA calculations and taking on debt is not an option. ROTC expands the socioeconomic diversity possible on campus.

          A veteran RUE student on campus during my time at Brown brought a valued perspective on the military and the people that serve and life experience. I believe the latter is more critically missing at Brown, where accepted students tended to have been coddled and nurtured in the embrace of the academic conveyor belt to elite institutions.

  3. War is a racket.

  4. I am sorry for assuming there were no other active duty commissioning options besides ROTC or the academies. I hope I didn’t scary anyone away.

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