University News

Brown to allow students to join two new military programs

Partnerships to let students participate in ROTC for Naval and Air Force Reserves

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 2015

The University has formed two new partnerships that will allow students to participate in the Naval and Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps starting next semester, said Karen McNeil, program director of the Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs. In addition to these programs — at the College of the Holy Cross for the Navy and at Worcester Polytechnic Institute for the Air Force — students also have the option to train through the existing Army ROTC partnership with Providence College.

Students have already shown interest in participating in the new ROTC programs, McNeil said, adding that students seem particularly interested in the Holy Cross Naval ROTC program, which encompasses both the Navy and the Marine Corps.

“For many years, there were people who were advocating for an expanded presence for ROTC on campus,” she said, adding that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 spurred many peer institutions to begin expanding their ROTC programs.

A contentious history

After “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011, the Committee on the ROTC released a report reexamining the University’s relationship with ROTC.

Brown and many of its peer institutions needed to look at whether they were “offering the best opportunities to their students,” McNeil said.

The report, published in 2012, and affirmed the 1969 faculty resolution that banned ROTC during the midst of the Vietnam War. Under this resolution, the University must designate ROTC programs as extracurricular activities, with program instructors unable to obtain faculty status, according to the report.

When the committee wrote its report, few Brown students were participating in ROTC through the partnership with Providence College, but many students and alums advocated for ROTC to have a larger presence on campus, McNeil said. As many as 60 percent of alums were “strongly in favor” of Brown becoming a host for an ROTC program, according to a poll placed in Brown’s alumni magazine, the report said.

With conflicting desires to increase opportunities to participate in ROTC on campus while still upholding the 1969 resolution, “the conclusion of the ROTC report was that the most feasible way (to bring ROTC back on campus) is to work with other schools with partnerships,” McNeil said.

After the report was published, then-President Ruth Simmons made a statement to the campus recommending the University continue to uphold the 1969 resolution and its ban on hosting a ROTC program, according to a letter she sent to the Brown community in October 2011. Simmons cited continued discrimination against transgender individuals and “opposition to recent wars undertaken by the country” as grounds for upholding the ban.

In addition, Simmons wrote that students should be able to participate in off-campus Naval and Air Force ROTC programs that were not offered at the time.

The University then began talks with potential partner schools to make these programs possible, but “any changes in the status of ROTC (had) to be approved by a vote of faculty,” McNeil said.

At its February 2015 meeting, the faculty endorsed new partnerships for Naval and Air Force ROTC by a 35-29 vote after much debate, giving the University the go-ahead to finalize the partnerships with Holy Cross and WPI this past summer, McNeil said.

Military perspectives on campus

For Brown students in the Army ROTC at Providence College, the program is an extracurricular activity that can come with a large time commitment.

Four Brown students currently participate in ROTC — a low number relative to the size of the student population, McNeil said. As the program director for the SVCP, McNeil said she does not recruit or “sell” ROTC to students, but she does hope that more students will become interested in participating in ROTC to bring a different perspective to campus, she added.

“We’d like knowledge of the military to be a part of the culture at Brown,” McNeil said. “Even just sitting next to a veteran or an ROTC student in class, seeing them as a person and knowing that people who go into the military are normal people, having that kind of interaction is very important.”

Having more students in the program will also create an atmosphere where ROTC students do not feel “singled out” among their peers, she said.

Johnathan Davis ’16, student coordinator for the SVCP, is currently in his fourth year of ROTC. Davis fully committed to ROTC the fall of his sophomore year, he said, adding that it was a difficult transition knowing that he was “taking a different path” than most Brown students.

“I had to understand and accept that,” Davis said. “From there, things were a lot better,” especially because of friendships with non-Brown students who also participate in the program.

While on campus and in uniform, Davis said students tend to approach him with curiosity. “At most, I’ll get surprised looks that somebody in military uniform is walking around campus, and I get a lot of questions.”

Of the four students who participate in ROTC, two have previous exposure to the military.

Kaela Lynch ’19 grew up in a military family and knew that she wanted to commit to ROTC when she came to college.

“I figured having the balance of ROTC — having that military presence in my life — but also going to college and getting a good education was important,” Lynch said.

Similarly, William Summers ’19 came to Brown with prior military exposure through his high school’s Junior ROTC program.

Hosting ROTC at Brown

Though ROTC participation rates among Brown students are low, if the rate ever increases to the point where Brown students are “straining the resources of partner schools,” then the University would probably host its own program, McNeil said.

Aside from low numbers, other constraints also contribute to the University’s preference for partner programs over one of its own, McNeil said. The two major factors are the costs involved for the military in establishing a new program and the need for faculty approval of any changes related to the military on campus, she added.

Given that ROTC is subsidized by the U.S. military, it is preferable that schools form partnerships to keep costs down than create a new program entirely, she said.

And while the faculty did endorse the partnerships with Holy Cross and WPI, allowing Brown to host its own ROTC program would mandate changing the 1969 resolution, which would require flexibility from both the military and faculty members, some of whom are stark opponents of ROTC.

Professor of English William Keach said programs like ROTC infringe on the independence that colleges and universities should have from entities such as the U.S. government. Keach said he has a lot of questions about military policies in general — beyond ROTC.

“Colleges and universities make an important contribution to society generally in providing critical analysis of things like public policy and military policy,” Keach said. “Having that be independent of the formal structures and authority of something like the United States military is extremely important for something like academic independence.”

Keach is especially opposed to the “curricular role” that ROTC can have on some campuses, especially schools that host ROTC programs, he said. While Brown still treats ROTC like an extracurricular, Keach believes that partnerships are not “the real solution to the difficulty” that comes with having ROTC be part of a student’s curriculum, he added.

Currently, courses taken as part of the ROTC program appear on students’ transcripts but are not credit-bearing.

“Can we think of another analogous program where a government entity offers coursework on a university’s campus in a systematic way?” Keach said.

With the new partnerships, Brown leaves Dartmouth as the only school in the Ivy League to not offer its students an option to participate in Navy and Air Force ROTC programs, McNeil wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald.

McNeil said allowing Brown students to choose to take courses specific to the careers they want to pursue is an educational opportunity, adding that they still “take their full complement of Brown courses.”

ROTC is especially important in training students to be leaders within the military, Davis said, adding that participants in the program are “given a lot of responsibility.”

“In the real world in the military, as an officer, you’re leading 40-plus individuals,” Davis said. “And with that, a lot has to go into leadership and effectively leading those individuals, especially in battle.”

Lynch similarly praised her experience with the Army ROTC program. When she first came to Brown, she was thinking about pursuing medical school after graduating in active duty with ROTC, she said. But because she has enjoyed participating in ROTC so much, Lynch said she foresees herself interested in a job in the military after graduation.

“ROTC is one of the many opportunities (that students have), and if a student is interested in military service for whatever reason. I don’t see any benefit in trying to block their path,” McNeil said.



  1. Pave Low John says:

    Here is a news flash for all you special snowflakes at Brown. The U.S. military doesn’t need you. It really doesn’t want you and, to be blunt, the typical graduate from this den of political correctness would be a huge drag on a military unit’s effectiveness.

    There are no “safe spaces” for military personnel. That’s the whole point of being a military professional, doing unsafe things in unsafe environments. You would be miserable in this world and you would annoy the hell out of the mission-hackers that really don’t want you there.

    So, for everyone’s sake, get your degree and stay in the university cocoon, where you’re not getting in the way.

    P.S. For the four people currently participating in ROTC while enrolled at Brown: Seriously, you need to transfer to someplace that appreciates your willingness to serve. You’re wasting your time at Brown and to be honest, being an Ivy League grad is usually seen as a bad thing once you’re on active duty (Ivy League grads have not exactly covered themselves in glory during recent operations, the public grandstanding of Andrew Exum and Nathaniel Fick being Exhibits A and B). Get out while the gettin’ is good, as the enlisted guys say….

    • Michael Zaskey says:

      The greatest benefit I ever received from the Army was the mindset to never quit. I can’t possibly speak to the type of experiences you had in the Air Force but any time things weren’t going our unit’s way we pushed back, we set the tempo, and we created the conditions that allowed for victory.

      Now, as a veteran, I am honored to be a member of this community that not only supports our own but also our future brothers and sisters in arms. To that end, your comments are truly the most anti-military statements I have heard during my three years as a student here. It seems that you are resigned to accept setbacks as failures; that you are unwilling to shoulder your share of the burden required to right these wrongs.

      Brown does not have a ROTC detachment on campus, but the number of ROTC programs offered has tripled this year.

      Brown does not have many cadets, but the number of students interested in ROTC and other commissioning programs has risen in the past several years.

      Brown does not have a large Veteran population, but our numbers have been growing and are set to grow further in the upcoming academic year.

      These things have been made possible by the efforts of Veterans and military supporters who have been putting in the legwork against a bureaucracy that was founded during the Vietnam era when some of them were undoubtedly molded by statements like “The U.S. military doesn’t need you. It really doesn’t want you.”

      I do not expect to be able to persuade you that your argument, that ROTC cadets should transfer to an appreciative safe space where they will be able to cocoon themselves from any dissenting opinion, is patently absurd. However, I urge you to reconsider your decision to turn your back on your former and future comrades and decide help them continue to enact the changes that are correcting some of the underlying concerns you hold.

  2. Christopher M. says:

    As an alum (Masters, 2004), and an Army Lieutenant Colonel, I am surprised that Brown students and faculty are not interested in having ROTC on campus. If Brown students (and I know I am generalizing) hate the military, and all it stands for and does, perhaps what it needs is more Brown alums in its ranks, so that they can change it for the better.

    If Brown education is that good, why not use that education in the military, and ensure that the military does the right thing?

    Why are people scared of having a military presence on campus? And why are you resisting letting someone at Brown choose to be a student who will serve this nation in one of the finest ways possible?

    BTW, Pave Low John, I found my Brown education to be neither a benefit (aside from the practical science education I got enroute to teach at West Point) or a hindrance in my career.

    • Pave Low John says:

      True, it won’t hurt or help your career, per se, but I notice that you got your Masters, not your B.A. or B.S. from Brown, so that really doesn’t count, no one thinks that an MA or MS is going to alter the personality of a major or light colonel. Of the two pilots I worked with that got their commissions from the Ivy League, the Harvard guy was considered clueless and absent-minded (and thus not really mission-capable), while everyone thought the Princeton guy was a complete jackass. These assessments were mainly chalked up to their being spoiled rich kids from the Ivy League.

      Now, in my case, I had to hide the fact that I was a USAFA grad. I can’t speak for the Army or the Navy/Marines, but in the Air Force, every Academy grad is written off as a pretentious douchebag until proven otherwise. So I never mentioned it, never wore my class ring and tried to be a normal human being. To this day, I’m proud to say that some of the enlisted guys I worked with for over a decade are still shocked when they find out where I went to school. But I digress.

      Believe it or not, I had a chance to attend Brown. I was accepted when I applied back in 1988 and actually considered it, until I found out that the ROTC scholarship I qualified for wasn’t actually for an on-campus detachment and that Brown was still holding a Vietnam-era grudge against the military. So that made my decision to skip the Brown experience really easy.

      However, I kind of agree with you about the military needing people from all the different corners of American life. It would probably be healthy for the Army or Air Force to have some officers who weren’t just more graduates from the same 10 schools (West Point, Texas A&M, VMI, the Citadel, NC State, VA Tech, etc…) But at this point, I’d take another Aggie or VMI grad over the brand new butterbars that will come stumbling out of this ramshackle arrangement they have set up at Brown. It may be unfair to that rare Brown student that just wants to serve their country but I’ve already given my advice for those folks below.

      Finally, I notice that as much as Brown despises the military, they are more than happy to take federal money. Who does the Brown students and faculty think the military takes orders from? Who sends the U.S. military to places like Iraq and Afghanistan? (and don’t even think of blaming this all on Bush, I deployed to two different combat zones in the Clinton years and Obama has pretty much guaranteed we’ll be doing combat ops in the Middle East for the next two or three decades). They won’t allow an ROTC det, but they’ll happily accept funding from the people that actually control the Armed Forces. I’m trying to think of a better example of hypocrisy but I’m coming up blank right now…

    • I’m sorry that this article gave you the impression that the Brown students “hate the military” and that they, or the faculty, are not interested in having ROTC on campus. From my data, and the experience of my military students, that is not the case at all. There’s been a lot of healthy debate on the topic, but overall the students are supportive of ROTC. According to a survey for the 2011 ROTC Report, 55% of Brown students favored an expanded role of ROTC, either through hosting a unit or expanding partnerships. It’s more difficult to gauge the faculty (they weren’t surveyed for the report), but when the initial proposal went out for their consideration, 25 faculty members wrote in support of the measure and only 3 against. Most importantly, our military students (both veteran and ROTC) have told me that they have had nothing but positive interactions with both students and faculty in regards to their military service. Contrary to popular perception, Brown is actually a very supportive environment for military students.

      • Christopher M. says:


        It is not just this article, but the other ones that have been published (DiZoglio,Makhlouf, Keach) as well as comment sections (like this one). Looking at the history here, many students and other commenters don’t generally like the military (though many do as well). I know you have been in your position for over a year, and have a much better pulse on the campus than I do, hundreds of miles away.

        I am glad there has been a debate on the campus. I hope that continues. Partnerships only go so far though. Hosting a unit, and having students walk around campus (or attend classes) in uniform would be different. I suspect that some students might decide they were “uncomfortable” with a “uniformed” fellow student in their classroom, or feel “threatened.” It does not take much to offend a student these days. So, if there were ROTC on campus (as I think there should be, if the military wants it, and that is a big IF, since the costs are immense), I do not think it would be well received by the faculty or students. Partnerships allow ROTC to be “out of sight and out of mind.”

        I am sincerely happy that veteran students are doing well at Brown, and hope more attend. It can be a great place to learn. I do hope that Brown is a supportive environment for military students – though I’d be more convinced if military students said that.

        I know when I was a student (2002-2004), and we were about embark upon a war in Iraq, many at Brown were not supportive of the military, forgetting that the uniformed military does not choose when to go to war, but rather follows the direction of elected leadership. Many Brown students aspire to be policy makers and leaders. A healthy understanding of the military might just be useful down the road when they send young men and women into danger.

  3. Only at Brown could forcing service-minded students to travel 40 miles from campus several days per week be seen as an improvement.

    “Separate but equal” lives, apparently.

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