Students & Parents | Intellectual Diversity

Survey polls Columbia students on support of ROTC

ASSOCIATED PRESS   |  November 25, 2008 by Deepti Hajela

A student survey under way at Columbia University assesses whether undergraduates are in favor of a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program returning to campus nearly 40 years after ROTC was dismantled at the Ivy League school.

The online survey opened to student voting on Monday and will remain open for a week, said Adil Ahmed, a vice president in the Columbia College Student Council and one of the organizers of the effort.

The ROTC program focuses on development of leadership, problem solving and planning skills.

The nonbinding poll asks students if they support the return of the naval ROTC program. It mentions that program specifically because Columbia students can participate in other ROTC programs at other college campuses in the city but don’t have a naval ROTC program available to them.

The issue, which also was raised in 2005 but was defeated when the University Senate voted against inviting ROTC back onto campus, has been a topic of heavy discussion, students said.

“Both sides have done a lot of work to increase turnout,” said Lauren Salz, executive director of College Republicans and a supporter of ROTC’s return to campus.

The ROTC issue gained an even higher profile in September, when then-presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama attended an event on campus and agreed the ROTC, which had been banned in 1969 in the wake of the Vietnam War and student protests, should return.

After that event, university President Lee Bollinger issued a statement welcoming discussion on the issue. But he pointed out that the 2005 vote against the ROTC was predominantly due to the military Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and that university policy prohibited programs that discriminated based on categories including sexual orientation. The university has not announced any plans to revisit the subject in the Senate.

That issue still applies, said some students against allowing ROTC’s return.

“We are unwilling to bring back ROTC as long as it discriminates against gays and lesbians,” said Avi Edelman, a member of the Columbia University College Democrats. “We can’t have a program that closes its doors to a large segment of our population.”

Aries Dela Cruz, a senior anthropology major with the Columbia Queer Alliance, agreed and said students’ voting against an ROTC return was important even if the survey doesn’t have any official standing.

“It’s important even if it’s nonbinding,” he said. “It’s about hearts and minds.”

Others said it was important to bring ROTC back to expose students to a range of ideas and career possibilities, such as serving in the armed forces.

“If you believe that a modern nation state will have an armed services, which I do, I would rather that military look as much like the university as possible,” said Joseph Mathew, a senior who supports the effort.

Salz said: “It’s the duty of our university to allow the military to have programs on campus.”

Other organizations have made pushes recently for some of the country’s top schools to bring ROTC on campus. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni sent letters in September to the boards of Columbia and six other schools including Harvard and Yale urging them to reconsider their bans.

Anne Neal, president of ACTA, said it was a question of allowing students to decide for themselves.

“This a question of student choice, an ability of students to make up their own mind of what careers they will pursue,” she said.


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