With this weekend’s repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” elite colleges now have a chance to make good on their promises and bring ROTC back to campus. Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust has already made a strong statement in support of ROTC’s return, while both Columbia and Stanford Universities have formed task forces to review their policies. Likewise, student representatives at Yale University plan to meet next year with administrators to discuss an on-campus ROTC program. No word yet from Brown, Tufts, or the University of Chicago.
These are good first steps, but advocates for ROTC should not fool themselves into believing the fight is over. Instead, they should prepare for the numerous administrative and academic challenges to reintroducing a robust and successful ROTC program on campus. Fortunately, Michael Segal at Secure Nation has some great suggestions as to how universities and the military can work together to enhance the ROTC curriculum, providing high-quality courses worthy of academic credit. Advocates should also work for closer ties at those universities that currently host ROTC units, but hold them at arm’s length: Princeton, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania. Much more can (and should) be done to integrate ROTC into mainstream campus life than merely hosting a program.
Finally, even with the return of ROTC to elite schools, there remains the larger issue of the geographic dispersion of ROTC units. The revival of Columbia’s Naval ROTC program would be a huge boon for students in New York City, the majority of which are prohibited from participating in the city’s only NROTC program. But what of the students in New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island who also lack the opportunity to participate in NROTC? The return of ROTC to top-tier schools will help to redress the current geographic and social imbalance, but it alone cannot solve the growing civil-military divide.