Mills ’15: Credit where credit is due

Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bundled with its approval for the expansion of Brown’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps partnerships in a faculty resolution was a smaller provision calling for transcript notation of involvement with ROTC. The core of the proposal is that Brown students who are part of the ROTC at Providence College will have their transcript reflect this involvement. This is in many ways a technicality — but it is also a powerful symbolic gesture to those students about their accomplishments and the merit of their extracurricular course work.

As it stands now, the University treats the ROTC like any other extracurricular activity without any mention of it on a student’s transcript. This is disappointing because, if you allow me to state the obvious, the ROTC is not like any other extracurricular activity. Students who are enrolled full-time in the ROTC program take extra classes and labs almost every semester, engage in weekly physical training with their units and can have training commitments over the summer. Participation in the ROTC program for a full four years is also a competitive process — not all students are accepted or can complete the program.

The ROTC is fundamentally different than other extracurricular activities. It is not like playing club or varsity sports, being involved with campus clubs or Greek life or performing community service. The ROTC is really co-curricular; it involves semesters of academic coursework, physical training and leadership education in and outside the classroom.

In the new plan, starting next year, Brown students who take classes in the ROTC curriculum at Providence College will have those classes listed on their transcripts alongside their coursework at Brown. But their non-credit statuses will be noted, and in the comments section of the transcripts, there will be a note explaining the students’ participation in the ROTC unit at Providence College. This is a welcome change — for years Brown students have been enrolled in the ROTC program at Providence College with little or no recognition of their efforts. Now they will at least have notation of their extra coursework, even though they will still be denied academic credit for the work that would count toward their graduation requirements.

Across the country, students are given full credit for the courses they complete on their campuses in the ROTC curriculum. Even at peer institutions like Yale, this is the case. Courses in the ROTC curriculum on topics like military history, ethical decision-making and leadership are not different than courses already taught at Brown. Some of these types of courses include POLS 1823: “Women and War,” SOC 1315: “Macro-Organizational Theory” and CLPS 0220: “Making Decisions.” Why would we give ROTC students credit for only the courses they take here? It’s already not the case that students have to take every course they count toward graduation in a classroom on College Hill. Brown already allows students to transfer credits from other universities and study abroad programs.

Some students might cry foul if the University noted involvement in the ROTC on student transcripts. “If they can get credit for ROTC why can’t I get credit for…” — I can imagine the refrain now. I would answer that you can have transcript notation for courses you complete at other universities during a study abroad program. When you can find another extracurricular as demanding, comprehensive and widely accepted as the ROTC, then we should think about noting that on transcripts as well.

I can also imagine faculty members and administrators with concerns over their inability to control the content and structure of the coursework in ROTC classes. To this, I would respond that the ROTC curriculum is taught at universities across the nation — and the courses are rather loosely structured, which gives the professor broad leeway to design a course as long as it meets the basic requirements set forth by the military. Why doesn’t a Brown professor design a course that could count toward the ROTC curriculum and also be available to the whole Brown community? Is there no space in the history department for a course on the history of warfare?

On the whole, I regard any steps toward the expansion or accommodation of the ROTC or other commissioning programs on campus as positive. I have great respect for the program and the men and women that it produces. I also believe that our campus is relatively sheltered from exposure to the military, and that this marks a limitation of our education at Brown. If you need any more convincing on this point, look no further than a certain February opinions column (ROTC: Return of the criminals, Feb. 5).

Any changes that would help increase our exposure to the military by better accommodating our current ROTC students or recruiting incoming students interested in the ROTC are positive. But specifically, transcript notation of ROTC coursework is about giving our current and future ROTC students the credit they deserve. They deserve to have their ROTC coursework noted on their transcripts, and they deserve credit toward graduation for their ROTC coursework as well. Maybe one day the Office of the Registrar will give full credit where it is due.

Walker Mills ’15 is planning on commissioning as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps after graduation and can be reached at


One Comment

  1. References:
    Blueprint for Columbia ROTC (link).
    Blueprint for Harvard ROTC (link).
    Ivy League ROTC advocacy at Advocates for ROTC (link).

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