Stanford's Faculty Senate votes to bring back ROTC

Apr 29 2011 - 9:24am

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Stanford University's Faculty Senate voted Thursday to invite the Reserve Officer Training Corps back to the campus for the first time since the Vietnam War era, a turnaround prompted by the end of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy against gays serving openly in the military.

Stanford's President John L. Hennessy said he will soon start discussions with the military branches to return ROTC to the university, joining other elite schools in welcoming back the officer training units that had been pushed off campus or denied academic standing during the anti-war movement of the 1970s. Columbia University took similar steps last week, Harvard did so last month and several others are considering the actions.

Offering the military a bigger role on campus, Hennessy said after the vote, "would provide more opportunity for dialogue and I think that dialogue is critically important in a democracy." He said it was too early to say which ROTC units might reopen and how soon.

The Faculty Senate approved the change, 28-9 with three abstentions, after an emotional, two-hour debate. Much of the discussion focused on the ban against transgender people serving in the armed forces, even after the congressional vote in December to lift the 17-year-old "don't ask" rules that prevented gays from serving openly. Critics said allowing ROTC on campus would be discriminatory against transgender students.

About 40 Stanford students who opposed the program's return demonstrated outside the meeting and yelled "shame on you" as the faculty exited.

Among the protesters was chemical engineering sophomore Thomas Joseph, 20, of Portland, Ore., who said he opposed the American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and any Stanford involvement with the military. "I'm tired of it," he said of the wars, "and I'm not for a bigger military."

The faculty vote came a week after a campus commission report that said ROTC's return to Stanford would contribute to a better educated officer corps, one more able to make judgments with "a high sense of moral principle and secure commitment to the rule of law."

Commission chairman Ewart Thomas, a psychology professor, told Thursday's meeting that having ROTC on campus would bring more diverse points of view and trigger discussions about the military, history and leadership. "That's something from which all our students would benefit," he said.

Under ROTC, students receive scholarships in return for agreeing to military service after graduation. The Army, Navy and Air Force run separate programs for new officers.

Stanford has had a traumatic history with ROTC. In 1968, the Naval ROTC building on campus was destroyed in an arson fire. With anti-war sentiment high, the on-campus programs were phased out in the early 1970s, but the university later allowed students to take ROTC classes at other schools in the region. Fourteen Stanford students currently participate in the programs at the University of California, Berkeley, San Jose State and Santa Clara University, but do not receive academic credit for them at Stanford.

The Stanford resolution approved Thursday would require close oversight by the university of ROTC courses and instructors as well as an effort to have the courses open to all Stanford students, not just those in the program. Military and ROTC officials said they were unsure whether those issues could delay the program's return.

Stanford law professor Lawrence Marshall said he struggled with his decision to vote yes. He said he believes the military wrongly discriminates against transgender people but that having future military leaders meet such students on campus would eventually lead to the end of that policy. "The answer is exposure to diversity," he said. Marshall proposed and won support for a faculty statement urging the military to change its transgender policy.

Earlier this month, a non-binding student election showed divisions, with 2,406 voting for ROTC's return to Stanford, 929 opposing it and 2,117 abstaining. Some ROTC opponents had urged students to abstain.

(c) 2011, Los Angeles Times.

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