Trustees | Intellectual Diversity

National council pushes for Tufts to bring ROTC facility to campus

THE TUFTS DAILY   |  October 29, 2008 by Ben Gittleson

A national non-profit group devoted to supporting higher education sent a letter this month urging Tufts’ Board of Trustees to move the university’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program back on campus, saying that students deserve the right to pursue a military career in a convenient way.

But university officials say that decision remains in the hands of the military, which has determined that maintaining central hubs for Boston-area schools, located at MIT and Boston University, is more cost-effective than setting up detachments of the program at each area college.

Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), said in an Oct. 2 letter to Tufts’ board members that they should institute an on-campus program at “a time when there is broad support for public service.”

ACTA sent similar letters to the boards at Harvard University, Brown University, Columbia University, Yale University, Stanford University and the University of Chicago. The council identified Tufts and these other schools as the most prominent universities in the nation without on-campus ROTC programs.

“Students should have the right to explore these and other kinds of careers if they so desire, and it’s not the university’s place to rule certain kinds of careers out of bounds,” Charles Mitchell, ACTA’s program director, told the Daily.

Mitchell said Tufts hinders the nation’s ability to prepare stellar military leaders by excluding ROTC from campus, contributing to a lack of graduates from elite universities who serve in the military.

ACTA contacted the board because “ultimately, it is the trustees’ job to see that students have their appropriate rights on campus,” Mitchell said.

In response to ACTA’s letter, University President Lawrence Bacow told Tufts trustees in an e-mail on Oct. 10 that both he and the university consistently extend their support to Tufts’ “successful” ROTC program, in which the school partners with the MIT detachment that serves a number of colleges in the area.

“I am on record as saying that service in the military represents the highest form of public service to which this university is deeply committed,” Bacow wrote to the trustees, noting that he speaks at the annual ROTC commissioning ceremony. “We advertise participation in ROTC in our admissions materials and also highlight ROTC in our university-wide publications. Tufts and I will continue to encourage current and prospective students to participate in ROTC.”

Board of Trustees Chair James Stern (E ’72) forwarded Bacow’s e-mail to ACTA, using the message as the board’s official response.

“It’s the military’s decision that it’s cost-effective, not the university’s. They were the ones that said it’s cost-effective for them to have just one training facility at MIT,” Tufts spokesperson Suzanne Miller said. Dean of Undergraduate Education James Glaser agreed that choosing the locations for ROTC programs falls under the military’s jurisdiction.

Tufts phased out ROTC in the late 1960s and early ’70s in response to the Vietnam War, as did many schools across the country. Today, Tufts’ ROTC students take training and leadership courses taught by military officers at the MIT center.

Tufts students do not receive credit for the classes, though, because the university does not cross-list courses with MIT. Boston University houses another program, at which students can receive credit, but they generally do not exercise that option because of BU’s distance from Tufts.

Mitchell believes that supporting the off-campus options is not enough. Making ROTC less accessible will “depress demand,” he said. “It’s essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

But senior Nancy Henry, an Air Force ROTC cadet who oversees Air Force ROTC training for Tufts members, feels that having ROTC on campus would probably not make a difference in terms of participation, because students interested in the program are generally willing make the trek to MIT.

“It’s not that hard to get to MIT, and there are a lot of benefits of having it there,” she said.

Tufts’ student body might not even have enough interested students to warrant an on-campus program, according to Henry. “In some ways, I think it would kind of diminish the resources we have available to us,” she said.

Students travel to MIT via private cars or the T. Bacow said in his e-mail that the university provides transportation for Tufts students, but Henry disputed that claim. Nonetheless, she said, the administration does provide support, as does an alumni group, the Advocates for Tufts ROTC.

Tufts cadets participating in MIT’s program must sponsor two events off of MIT’s campus each year, according to Henry.

Yesterday, around 60 students, over half of them Air Force ROTC cadets from the area and the rest non-ROTC Tufts students, gathered on the Hill for a crisis-simulation program.

In small groups led by officers from the MIT detachment, they debated how the Air Force should respond to a hypothetical earthquake and imminent typhoon near Taipei, Taiwan, discussing strategy and the allocation of military assets. The event was the only one that Henry could recall that was held recently at Tufts.

Henry said ROTC cadets work with the Advocates for Tufts ROTC to plan events, organize scholarships and encourage ROTC participation.

While Tufts has only sent ACTA one e-mail in response, the council has accelerated public debate on ROTC at some other universities. At Yale, the student government voted to support bringing the military training program to campus, and the student government at Columbia has planned a referendum on the issue.

ACTA is a non-profit and non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C., with a nationwide network of over 5,000 college and university presidents, according to the group.

“All of our universities, particularly elite universities like Tufts, have a public purpose,” Mitchell said. “Tufts does not exist just for Tufts, and I’m sure that if you were to ask the president, he would agree.”


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