Why ROTC Should Stay Out of the University

by Danny Colligan

Hi, my name is Danny Colligan. I am a graduate student in computer science and President of Stanford Says No to War. Thanks for inviting me here to speak about why we should oppose ROTC's attempt to gain a foothold on campus.

Perhaps the best way to frame the argument against ROTC is to begin with an analogy. Suppose a corporation -- say, the Coca-Cola company -- came to the leadership of Stanford University one day with a proposal. The CEO of the company pitched a scholarship called the "Young Carbonation Engineers Program." Coca-cola would provide a full scholarship to any student that wanted it. But there's a catch; in fact, there's a few catches. Students that took the scholarship would have to pledge several years of their work life to the Coca-cola company after graduation. Students in the program would also have to major in chemical engineering because, of course, an English or Art History major is of no use for perfecting Coca-cola's syrupy concoctions. All of the relevant courses for the program would be taught in a Coca-cola building that would be built on campus. Finally, if a student happened to change his mind after participating in the Coca-cola program, deciding he really didn't want to work for Coca-cola after graduation or perhaps that he wanted to pursue a different major, he would have to pay back all of the money that Coca-cola had given him for his scholarship up until the time when he backed out. So, should Stanford allow Coca-cola to bring their "Young Carbonation Engineers Program" to campus?

I would hope that Stanford University would refuse this proposal. Trapping students into a program like this violates some key components of undergraduate academic freedom. Specifically:

(1) Students should be free to choose any major they want, not to be forced to commit too early, and able to change majors as long as they can fulfill the requirements.

(2) Students should be free to choose their career path during their time as a student, and not to have this choice determined by those who fund their education.

(3) Outside organizations should not be granted the power to set up teaching facilities on campus in exchange for providing student scholarships.

But, of course, it is not Coca-cola that is trying to claw its way onto campus -- it's the military. And the military brings with it its own set of problems. For instance, does the military allow medical confidentiality between ROTC cadet and doctor? That is, if a cadet were to be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, would he or she need to turn over this information to the armed forces since it might alter his or her behavior in combat? If so, we must question whether ROTC is consistent with enabling all undergraduates to obtain full care for mental health conditions.

Another consideration is the very nature of the military that the ROTC program puts students on track to join. As an article in the Harvard Crimson in 1973 put it, "aiding a politically repressive, imperialist military violates the ethical principles of a socially responsible, morally conscious university." Since ROTC cadets may very well be asked to aid and abet illegal activities (such as aggression, the supreme international war crime), the article also asks whether classes teaching unlawful shenanigans such as "racketeering or bugging telephones" should also be considered acceptable university coursework.

To be sure, there are more general critiques of the military as an institution, militarism and patriotism that we could explore, but this is not the place.

So that is the case against allowing ROTC on campus. What is the argument for it? One of the main proponents of the effort is history professor David Kennedy. He made four points in favor of Stanford having an ROTC base on campus during the Faculty Senate meeting on March 4th. I will address his arguments in turn.

Kennedy's first argument had to do with Stanford students who currently participate in ROTC programs, but travel to other schools for training. He said, "Our current practice... of compelling the one dozen ROTC students at Stanford to go to [other campuses] for their ROTC training [] imposes an unreasonable burden on them."

If the Army, Navy, or Air Force were actually concerned about students' convenience, there's an obvious solution to this problem: why don't the armed forces buy or rent land in Palo Alto on which the ROTC students could train? In fact, this arrangement would be much better than having a base on Stanford campus since they could implement it immediately, without waiting for the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" saga to unfold or the Stanford bureaucracy to kick into gear to approve their plans. Even if, hypothetically, this solution somehow proved impossible, one questions whether the convenience of "one dozen" students outweighs the chilling effect that further militarizing the campus would have on the rest of the student population.

Kennedy's second argument was that "we are in danger of seriously compromising a 200-year-old tradition in this society of the citizen soldier, of interdigitating the military services and civil society in ways that ensure that the military arm does not become too separate either culturally or behaviorally from the civil society in our political system." So Kennedy is concerned with the split in values between the civilian and military sphere.

Unlike Professor Kennedy, however, I consider it a positive state of affairs that civilian and military life do not resemble each other. The military revolves around strict obedience of orders, hierarchical domination and massive violence. Civilian life, especially the scholarly life that we enjoy at Stanford, requires critical thinking, community involvement and independent thought. So I suppose I disagree with Professor Kennedy here: I believe the less militarized civilian life is, the better.

Kennedy's third argument was purely financial: "A bigger presence of ROTC will have implications for Stanford's financial aid budget, because over half of ROTC students receive scholarship funding from the Department of Defense." That is, the more ROTC students Stanford admits, the less Stanford needs to spend on those other students who suck money out of the budget with their financial aid needs.

This argument is troubling for two reasons. First, it subordinates academic and social concerns to financial ones. Stanford is supposed to be a university, not a business. Second, this argument could lead to a preference in accepting students who are in JROTC programs, thus increasing the role of the military at the university and moving away from the need-blind admissions paradigm. It is also worth noting that President Hennessey agreed with Kennedy in this regard: "We are at a time when our financial resources, particularly financial aid, is stretched thin. To the extent that some of our students would be supported by other sources, that would allow us to reduce the size of the deficit we have [because of] financial aid."

Kennedy's final argument was, in his own words, "Our present policy makes it close to impossible for Stanford to contribute in any material way to training leaders for a very important institution in our society and one that's not going to go away -- the armed forces. For my own part, I can't see why that is a good idea."

Kennedy's last point really begs two larger questions. First, what role do we want Stanford to play in assisting military objectives? Second, what role do we want the armed forces to play in society?

As long as "leadership" is a euphemism for organized violence, the answer to the first question should be clear and unequivocal: Stanford is a university, and not a military base. Stanford should reject the ROTC's attempts to foist itself on campus since the ROTC and the armed forces it feeds into do not, to quote Stanford's founding grant, "[exercise] an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization."

On the second question, it is true that the armed forces aren't going away anytime soon. But there is no law of nature that dictates that the US armed forces must be constituted in the way or on the scale that they are presently. It is not inevitable that America invades helpless countries, topples their governments and kills their people. No commandment of God mandates that the United States must maintain hundreds of military bases around the globe and spend half of the earth's total military budget in order to intimidate and dominate the world. We can certainly envision a scaled-down military in the not too distant future that will have the Department of Defense actually deal with defense instead of aggression. And we can also imagine a national budget that will go towards solving pressing human needs -- universal health care, free education, ending hunger and homelessness and the like -- instead of funding military waste and, indeed, perhaps the extinction of the human race.

That exhausts Professor Kennedy's arguments, but not his efforts to further militarize Stanford University. Indeed, Kennedy is only one of a cadre of ROTC boosters that are part of a nationwide movement trying to reinstate ROTC on campuses where it was previously expelled. To keep the ROTC's facilities and operations off of our campus, it's going to take organization; it's going to take your support. Please join me and the rest of the coalition that is coming together to keep ROTC off of Stanford grounds. Thank you.

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