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Stanford Debates Return of ROTC

Army ROTC student Jimmy Ruck, a senior at Stanford, leads a field training exercise
Army ROTC student Jimmy Ruck, a senior at Stanford, leads a field training exercise
Forty years after the military program was booted from campus, students, faculty and others contemplate its role

Ninety students and community members debated Tuesday night the possible return of the Reserve Officer Training Corps program to Stanford University some 40 years after the military program was forced off campus.

The Stanford University Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC, a 10-member group of students and faculty, was asked by administrators “to investigate Stanford's role in preparing students for leadership in the military.” Last night’s town hall debate was part of the process.

For students, the town hall helped diffuse tensions that had built up since last March when former Secretary of Defense William Perry and Stanford History Professor David Kennedy advocated for the return of ROTC during a session of Stanford’s Faculty Senate. The university removed the military program in 1973 because of opposition to it linked to protests against the Vietnam war.

Since then, much of the debate over the ROTC has raged on in campus newspapers and online blogs, with little direct interaction between supporters and opponents.

The town hall was the first time people from both sides faced each other, and the two-hour session in a packed community center on campus featured lively but friendly discussion.

Opponents included graduate student Sam Windley, who argued that ROTC’s ability to restrict its members to certain majors contradicted Stanford’s liberal educational approach.

“If they want to come to Stanford, then Stanford should offer them the Stanford experience,” Windley said. “And the Stanford experience, as the undergraduate program is designed, is to expose students to all the possibilities that they want to pursue academically.”

ROTC supporters, among them current Stanford students in the ROTC, argued that students were exercising academic freedom in choosing to be a part of a military program that pays for their schooling. Stanford has 13 students enrolled in Army, Air Force and Naval ROTC units. But they must travel to different universities across the Bay Area because Stanford does not offer a recognized ROTC program on its campus.

But most of the debate centered on whether military policy conflicts with Stanford’s nondiscrimination policies. The university prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation and other characteristics.

Even after the repeal last month of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays and lesbians, which had been a major obstacle to the reintroduction of ROTC, opponents say that the military’s continued barring of transsexuals on the basis of psychiatric concerns was discriminatory.

“Transgender people are still explicitly barred from the military, even with the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” said Alok Vaid-Menon, a sophomore and president of Stanford Students for Queer Liberation. “While gay and lesbian people can now openly join the military, transgender people are still not allowed to join the military.”

ROTC proponents argued that Stanford’s lack of an ROTC program denied students the opportunity to participate in a valuable national program. Former marine and current Stanford undergraduate Sebastain Gould said that Stanford was denying the military access to the future leaders.

Senior and current Army ROTC member Jimmy Ruck said, “Stanford as an institution has an effect on the military, as well. You can argue that the military is missing out on getting the influence from Stanford and its liberal arts education.”

Committee Chair Ewart Thomas, a psychology professor, said he was “pleased” by the debate, which will inform the groups’ report to the Faculty Senate this spring. Thomas said he was personally concerned with the military’s discrimination against transsexual individuals.

Jim Wilson, a student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an Army ROTC instructor, noted that in many ways, ROTC was already at Stanford because military programs use rooms at the University to teach some first- and second-year educational components of ROTC to its members. Windley said that he had only recently learned about the use of Stanford facilities for ROTC purposes.

In all, Wilson was confident of the chances of ROTC returning to campus in some capacity.

“At the end of the day, I felt that most of the arguments that were presented against bringing back ROTC to Stanford were legitimate reasons for an individual not to choose ROTC," he said, "but not compelling enough to not allow the program on the campus.” 

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