April 28, 2006

Bring ROTC Back to Campus

Given the attention that military presence on campus has generated, now, more than ever is a time to examine the University’s stance on ROTC. Like the rest of America’s elite private institutions, the U of C has, with dubious moral clarity, not allowed ROTC to hold classes on campus since the Vietnam war. Justifications have ranged from humanitarian issues in Vietnam to Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. But a brief examination of the matter reveals that ROTC presence on campus should no longer be avoided: Academia has no solid reason to deny its presence and in doing so has drawn a strict and unnecessary line between itself and the military.

Even according to its own rules, the U of C has no business banning select groups. The Kalven Report requires the administration’s absolute ideological neutrality, and for the most part this is obeyed. Groups are permitted to hold meetings, have classes, and bring in lecturers independent of the organization they are affiliated with or the “discriminatory” policies that those organizations might have. ROTC should not be an exception merely because of popular enmity four decades ago.

Still, independent of academic freedom, many students depend on ROTC to fund their education—an especially important concern at one of the most expensive universities in the world. All this really does is discourage potential ROTC students from coming here and marginalize those ROTC students who do come, even setting aside the trek to Illinois Institute of Technology or University of Illinois at Chicago which are the closest campuses that have ROTC classes for U of C students to attend. This in turn stratifies campus economic and ideological diversity, an ideal that the University strives for.

But this stands to do just as much for the military as it would for our campus. ROTC trains 60 percent of officers in the armed forces. By pushing away the military’s next class of leaders, a golden opportunity is missed to create scholars who would spread the virtues of a U of C education throughout their military careers.

By eliminating invalid excuses and permitting ROTC back on campus, elite institutions will take a step toward enhancing academic freedom, increasing diversity, and changing military culture. It won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s one that should be avoided. We hope that the University’s future leadership considers it.