Words and images flash across the screen. The ad calls out to me. "Every generation has its heroes," it explains. The picture of a group of Marines hoisting the flag over Iwo Jima appears. The Web-based ad then poses a question to me, seemingly plumbing the depths of my soul: "Will you answer the call?"
As the debate over the Reserve Officer Training Corps rages over campuses across the nation, I ponder the answer to that question. Will I answer the call? Like columnist Jack Sweeney-Taylor, I have reservations about a law like "No Child Left Behind" that undercuts education while simultaneously attempting to recruit more lower-class, undereducated Americans to serve in the armed forces. Like Sweeney-Taylor, I don't think ROTC programs belong on campus. I believe we shouldn't host them, however, because their discriminatory policies against lesbian, gay and bisexual soldiers run contrary to the mission of an educational institution.
What should a university be? Regardless of our political beliefs, we want a university to be liberal - and by liberal, I don't mean fight-the-man liberal so much as "tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded," as the American Heritage Dictionary states. We want a university to be a place where alternative dialogues are embraced, where we seek out knowledge and not dogma and where the worst possible crime is to silence other viewpoints.
Brown, like many colleges across the United States, has not always done a perfect job of fostering such openness. Liberal bias tends to force moderates and conservatives either underground or to the left, while those that remain publicly conservative can sometimes resort to needlessly inflammatory displays (like the controversy over ex-campus radical David Horowitz's ad in The Herald a few years ago), attempting to gain attention and discredit the left.
But embracing the closed-minded conservative policy of the ROTC would not solve Brown's problems with creating a genuinely liberal atmosphere. According to the program's regulations, those "who formalize their conviction in homosexual activity after enrollment into the Advanced Course or the ROTC Scholarship Program will apply for disenrollment from ROTC and will be considered for discharge from USAR (the US Army)." ROTC rules prohibit homosexual activity, implying its abomination or inherent wrongness. Can you imagine what would happen if we allowed such broad and sweeping generalizations to exist at a university without argument? The allowance of such a program on campus would be a tacit endorsement of such a policy, and at a truly liberal institution, such assumptions cannot be allowed. Whether or not homosexuality is "wrong" should, at the very least, be the subject of debate on a campus, not an accepted higher truth from the military. If we endeavor to avoid simplistic opinions like "America is bad" or "the war in Iraq is good," then the University should not encourage, however subtly, the approval of a belief that is tantamount to military dogma.
I concede that such a line of thinking runs dangerously close to not tolerating intolerance, and I'm not trying to hold ROTC hostage until they enact policies that I personally believe in. While intolerant viewpoints casn be instructive, I think the problem with ROTC is more the mindset behind its homosexuality policy. I think a policy mandating absolute political correctness (demerits for not using words like "Congressperson" or "Latino-American"), although more in tune with my personal politics, would be equally as damaging to an educational institution. Again, the problem is that such a hard-and-fast rule about something like homosexuality tends to squelch conversation and debate, which is exactly what a university is should foster.
Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that ROTC's presence would suddenly sweep through the campus and cause a fundamental shift in the way people think at Brown or the way the community thinks of Brown. Over-emphasizing ROTC's importance would be silly, but its presence here would be a symbol of Brown's acceptance of ROTC and its policies, and symbols are important. Legislation and rules may change legal statuses, but symbols change minds and change viewpoints - in many ways, symbols are just as powerful. If symbols weren't important, people wouldn't be fighting over the placement of the Ten Commandments on state property and there wouldn't be a controversy over the recent sale of a flag that flew over the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
I also understand that denying ROTC to any Brown student disproportionately affects lower-class students who would benefit more from the scholarship money that ROTC offers. And although I consider class diversity a major problem at Brown, I think what Brown gains by continuing to deny ROTC hosting is more substantial than what Brown loses in financial aid. Hosting ROTC runs completely contrary to Brown's steadfast dedication to a liberal education, and there are other ways to increase class diversity without undermining Brown's liberal atmosphere.
Although my tone may indicate otherwise, I plan to serve in the military, and consider the defense of our nation one of the noblest careers available. But I must wholeheartedly oppose the ROTC program coming to Brown and to any other university that supports a liberal curriculum and a liberal mindset. Until the U.S. military takes a more open-minded stance on homosexuality, those of us who want to answer the call should wait until after college to do so. Let colleges continue to strive to be the centers of learning and discourse we want them to become. After all, there's plenty of time to be a hero.
John Brougher '06 wants U...niversity