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Faculty endorses tie to Holy Cross ROTC program

Faculty also indefinitely tables vote on statement on academic liberty, free speech at meeting

Following a contentious debate, faculty members voted 35-29 in favor of developing new partnerships with Navy ROTC and Air Force ROTC units based at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The new association with Holy Cross will build upon existing Navy ROTC partnerships with other institutions in the Boston area, as well as existing Army ROTC partnerships with Providence College and Bryant University.

The University originally banned the presence of Navy and Air Force ROTC on campus in 1969 during the Vietnam War. Following the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” former President Ruth Simmons recommended that the University continue to classify ROTC as an extracurricular activity and expand its ties to ROTC programs at other institutions.

The military’s ban on transgender enrollment emerged as a primary concern for some faculty members. By supporting the ROTC affiliation, some argued, Brown would not be acting in accordance with its anti-discrimination policy and would be violating its promise of equal treatment to all students regardless of gender identity. One professor said the focus of ROTC was “antithetical to liberal education.”

Leslie Bostrom, professor of visual arts, said it would be a stronger statement to refuse the military than to accept and hope the military will change its policy on transgender enrollment.

But Professor of Biology Ken Miller ’70 P’02 said he feels NROTC will open opportunities for students.

“Would the interest of transgender students at Brown be to do nothing, not change the status quo?” Miller asked, adding that it might be productive to bring opinions formed by a liberal education to the military.

Catherine Lutz, professor of anthropology and international studies, raised the concern that the new proposal would bolster the military presence on campus. The program would have space in the Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs, which was created in 2012 at the Corporation’s instruction and aims to support students who are interested or involved in the military.

Joe Meisel, deputy provost and adjunct assistant professor of history, said in response that the office space would help facilitate aspects of the ROTC student experience such as advising. The office space was not requested by NROTC, but was offered by Brown.

A limited number of ROTC scholarships exist, so the concern that officers on campus would be a de facto recruiting team should be addressed, Meisel said.

Philip Rosen, professor of modern culture and media, stressed the implications of the 1996 Solomon Amendment, which allows the U.S. Secretary of Defense to deny federal grants to institutions that prohibit or prevent ROTC or military recruitment on campus.

Rosen said federal funding to the University may be threatened if ROTC programs are discontinued, adding that “Once the decision is made, it is made.”

Following a lengthy conversation in which faculty members could not reach consensus, the faculty indefinitely tabled a resolution endorsing President Christina Paxson’s P’19 statement on academic liberty and free speech made immediately following the controversial protest and shutdown of a planned lecture by former New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly last fall.

“Our commitment to the free exchange of ideas is so essential that it protects speech that many find offensive. Censoring even the most abhorrent ideas comes at too great a cost: If we do not protect the expression of all ideas, valuable ones may not be heard,” the proposed statement read.

The statement’s language is too strong and could encompass terrorists and threats to national security, said Peter Wegner, professor emeritus of computer science.

Opposition to passing the statement did not reflect a stance against free speech at the University, but rather a sentiment that the statement was unnecessary, since support for free speech is already written in the University bylaws, several faculty members said.

It is a “big mistake to engage in strategic enhancement” that will lead to community disagreements about “principles we have all agreed to share,” said Tricia Rose MA’87 PhD’93, professor of Africana studies and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. Endorsing the resolution could set a precedent for future resolutions that could consume undue time and energy, she added.

But some professors voiced support for the resolution’s backing of free speech. It’s “not a resolution designed to look backwards but one to look forwards,” Miller said. Brown should not be a place speakers avoid for fear of being “shouted down and silenced,” he added. 

Brown “unwittingly and unintentionally” sent mixed messages after the Ray Kelly incident, said Luther Spoehr, senior lecturer in education. Faculty members should feel comfortable bringing speakers of all ideologies to campus, Spoehr said, citing a statement from the 1897 faculty that emphasized the University’s commitment to “liberal, not dogmatic, education.”

While only one speaker has declined to come to campus for these reasons in the past 18 months, “by our actions, we will change perceptions over time,” Paxson said.

Bringing speakers to campus is the way to show that faculty members still believe in academic freedom, said Richard Locke, director of the Watson Institute for International Studies and professor of political science and public and international affairs.

Members of the committee on Faculty Equity and Diversity presented a report on their hopes to become more systematic in recruiting a diverse faculty. The report, co-written by Nancy Jacobs, associate professor of history and Africana studies, and Chung-I Tan, professor of physics, raised the concern that high expectations for diversity in hiring practices might add a new element of subjectivity to the hiring decision process, Jacobs said.

The faculty meeting also included two memorial minutes for Anthony Davids ’49, professor emeritus of psychology, and David Greer, former dean of medicine at Alpert Medical School.


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