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Hunter Fast '12: The case for ROTC at Brown

Since the height of the Vietnam War, the Reserve Officers' Training Corps has been absent from Brown's campus, as it has from the campuses of Harvard, Yale and Columbia. Much of the current opposition to the existence of a Brown ROTC chapter stems from the policy of "don't ask, don't tell" — DADT — wherein non-heterosexual soldiers are not allowed to express their sexual orientations freely.

While this restriction represents a violation of these soldiers' rights, the best way to confront this and effect change for the better is not by maintaining the expulsion of ROTC from campus, but rather by giving Brown students the ability to join the leadership of the military and contribute to change from within.

Many, including former Herald executive editor Chris Gang '11, argue that the existence of DADT precludes a Brown ROTC chapter outright because of extant anti-discrimination policies. Gang wrote in a letter to the editor to The Herald ("No ROTC with ‘don't ask, don't tell' policy," Feb. 18, 2009)  that, "We cannot allow (ROTC) on campus, just as we wouldn't allow a whites-only organization to operate here (even if Brown's involvement might make it more progressive)."

While this is an unfair comparison for a number of reasons, the fact remains that without any new, progressive influence on military culture, a potential repeal of DADT is likely to cause a reversion to the state of affairs that preceded it. Indeed, as things currently stand, a plurality of troops oppose allowing homosexuals to serve openly, with officers having even higher rates of opposition. Another poll conducted by the Military Times reported that 10 percent of troops would leave the military if DADT were repealed, with another 14 percent reporting that they would consider such an action.

Though similar threats of desertion occurred when Canada and Britain opened their armed forces within the past 20 years (with no such consequence), these polls still demonstrate that for the repeal to have substance, there must be an internal cultural transformation — especially among the ranks of officers — to accompany the external political processes surrounding the end of DADT.

Gang also argues that the effect of a Brown ROTC chapter would be negligible because only "a handful of Brunonian officers" would participate in the program. This is only half true. Due to the overhead costs associated with the ROTC program, there exists a crisis of confidence among upper echelon institutions vis-à-vis its return. A successful implementation of ROTC at Brown or another Ivy would be a powerful force in persuading others to follow.

Thus, while Brown's ROTC would itself only produce a few new officers, the result from other universities' subsequent adoption of the program would be transformative. Although a strict interpretation of Brown's anti-discrimination policies for campus groups is inconsistent with the existence of DADT, this ignores the fact that increased interaction between the Ivies and the military can be a means by which discriminatory recruitment policies can be ended once and for all.

While the presence of ROTC on elite college campuses can serve to increase the effectiveness of a repeal of DADT, this is far from the only reason why ROTC should return. Currently, Brown students who wish to serve in ROTC must arrange their own transport to Providence College in the early mornings for training. Furthermore, according to the Web site of the Dean of the College, "Credits earned in ROTC programs do not transfer back to Brown."

Given that Brown's New Curriculum is designed to give "students the right to choose … and above all the freedom to direct their own education," the resounding lack of support that the University gives to those who wish to further their education through military service demonstrates that, in this regard, the administration is indifferent at best and hypocritical at worst. In the administration's determination of which academic pursuits hold value, the exclusion of military science is not only arbitrary, but also severely limits Brown students' ability to pursue a noble cause at a time when national service is needed most.
Therefore, short of the full return of ROTC to Brown, the least the administration can do is provide some modicum of support to prospective student cadets in the form of transportation to PC and credit for military science classes. While a full ROTC chapter at Brown would be most effective in persuading other universities to resume their own programs, reducing the logistical barriers to student participation is sufficient to keep Brown consistent with the philosophy of the New Curriculum.

Despite the existence of DADT, it is imperative that Brown and other prestigious institutions support those students who wish to advance their education while training to serve in the armed forces. Indeed, the contribution of some of the nation's brightest minds to the officers' corps will only hasten DADT's end. It is shameful that in light of all the diverse beliefs and ways of life on campus, to serve one's country in uniform is officially treated as an alternative lifestyle.




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