Trustees | Liberal Arts

Brown moves toward accepting ROTC

PROVIDENCE JOURNAL   |  October 28, 2011 by Anne D. Neal

In recent months, Harvard, Yale, and Columbia have joined hundreds of other institutions nationwide in giving students the choice to participate in on-campus ROTC. Since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Ivy League schools have energetically been dismantling their shameful restrictions against ROTC.

Except one. Brown University has been holding out—but it appears that the fortifications may be crumbling. While outgoing president Ruth Simmons announced her opposition to bringing ROTC back on campus last week, her boss—the Brown Corporation—apparently disagrees to some extent. A release from the university on Saturday showed that the corporation has not only put itself firmly in support of expanding ROTC opportunities for Brown students, but has also gone so far as to direct President Simmons to establish an office on campus to assist veterans and students interested in ROTC.

This is very great news. The members of the corporation deserve praise for reversing institutional opposition to ROTC, dating back to the faculty ban in the late 1960s.

The board’s decision properly acknowledges what Brown Chancellor Thomas J. Tisch described as a “passionate” interest of alumni and the campus community in the status of ROTC. According to recent polls, 40 percent of Brown students—and 77 percent of alumni—wanted to bring ROTC back to campus.

The decision also rightly recognizes that it is the trustees—not the president, not the faculty—who are legally responsible for ensuring the rights and welfare of the students on campus.

To have done otherwise would have denied Brown’s students the same rights that students at peer institutions have—including the right to make up their own minds about whether and how to serve.

For too long, there has been a chasm between the nation’s elite schools and those who defend them. The Brown trustees have shown real leadership by expanding student opportunities for service and recognizing the critical role students with a liberal arts education can play in bringing informed and diverse perspectives to military planning.

Now, having taken this step, it’s important for the board to ensure that the institution properly supports students who wish to defend our liberties. Going forward, it’s incumbent on the trustees to charge the administration with expeditiously examining ways Brown students can participate in all branches of ROTC, and making sure the campus office is established in a timely manner with critical services such as transportation, since students today must still go off campus to participate in ROTC exercises.

And, yes, there are academic issues to be resolved. Not all ROTC courses are necessarily deserving of course credit, and not all ROTC instructors should have faculty status. But these are technicalities that other elite institutions—among them Cornell, the University and Pennsylvania, and Princeton—have successfully resolved. The president and the faculty—with the corporation’s support and encouragement—can surely do the same.

And students and our country can be grateful.

Anne D. Neal is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, in Washington, an independent, nonprofit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability at America’s colleges and universities.


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