Op-Ed: Repeal of DADT Doesn’t Alleviate Committee’s Task

The recent repeal of DADT in the military has ROTC proponents thinking they have the ball in the red zone and the only thing left to do is run the ball in for an easy touchdown. I’m baffled as to why. Why does Ewart Thomas, the chair of the Faculty Senate’s ad hoc committee on ROTC, think that the repeal of ROTC will alleviate the committee’s task? Stanford University phased out its ROTC program in 1973. Congress passed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 1993; therefore, DADT played no part in Stanford’s decision. So why is DADT even a topic of discussion? And why are proponents, and possibly even the committee, thinking there are few roadblocks to ROTC’s return? What is particularly concerning to me is that proponents and the committee have rarely addressed the real reasons for ROTC leaving the campus in 1973. All except one of the reasons remain an issue and would apply to ROTC’s presence on campus today. After reading the Ad Hoc Senate Committee on ROTC’s Majority Report of 1969, I am shocked that there’s even a discussion about bringing back ROTC. I will discuss a few of the many reasons, identified in that report, for Stanford’s decision to discontinue its ROTC program. (All quotations are from the 1969 report unless otherwise stated.)

ROTC creates a “conflict of interest.” Military officers are granted faculty positions to administer the ROTC program. These officers’ primary allegiance and duty is to the branch of the military of which they are a member, the U.S. military as a whole and the U.S. government. Their primary commitment cannot simultaneously be to the university or to the “academic enterprise.”

“Training for a specific employer, by that employer.” ROTC is an external, institutionalized organization that specifically trains students to acquire the skills needed to work for that organization. Such training is administered by the military, in the interests of the military, and fundamentally differs, therefore, from the “unrestricted creation and dissemination of knowledge” that one should receive by way of a college education. This type of training should not be a part of the “academic structure of the university.”

ROTC is academically prescriptive. All three branches of the military legally require students to take “certain courses of study” and the Navy even excludes other certain courses of study from the program. An external organization on campus should not be able to legally bind students to a prescribed course of study when that external organization also has the power to dictate the methodology and content of that course of study. ROTC for the three branches also requires students to satisfy “certain academic standards.” Students should not be legally bound to satisfy academic standards created by an external organization that also determines whether or not those standards are met.

ROTC programs demand that students meet certain standards of “personal conduct.” These constraints restrict “students’ free participation in all facets of intellectual inquiry and legal political activity.” Academic prescriptions and standards of personal conduct created by an external organization on campus violate the fundamental concept of the University’s “rights and obligations to establish, maintain, and judge its own standards of academics, course of study, and student conduct.”

“Contracts for service” in ROTC financial agreements legally bind students to serve in the armed forces after graduation. If the student doesn’t serve in the armed forces after graduation or decides he/she doesn’t want to continue the ROTC program sometime throughout his/her undergraduate career, he/she is (at least potentially) financially penalized. No other academic programs have such a condition.

DADT wasn’t an issue then. So why is it now? The arguments explained above reflect only a few of the reasons that supported ridding Stanford of ROTC in 1973. Nothing, except the use of “punitive clauses,” has changed since. Why is the idea of bringing back ROTC even being explored if so few of the reasons for getting rid of it in the first place have changed? It is quite concerning that this fact isn’t being publicly addressed by proponents of ROTC or the committee. That said, I would like to thank the University for reaching out to the student body and making the ROTC question a collective, community decision.

Josh Schott ‘14

About Op Ed

  • Robin Thomas

    I’m glad to see you reiterate the original arguments against ROTC — I did ROTC my freshman year and support bringing it back to campus, and went to the town hall meeting hoping to hear some good alternative viewpoints. It was really disappointing to me that the opposition limited themselves so much to the argument about not allowing ROTC because of perceived discrimination against transgendered people. Sure, it’s a fair argument, but I thought the opposition could have come up with some much more compelling reasons. So thanks for speaking out with your own views.

    The reasons you expressed for not bringing ROTC to Stanford seem focused mainly on how it stifles students’ freedoms — mostly academically, abut personally as well. I certainly agree with you that when I was in NROTC there were some classes I had to take and constraints by which I had to abide. But — and I think this is really important — I was willing to make make those sacrifices. I don’t think ROTC’s rules can really be considered limitations of freedom if students are willing to take on those limitations. Remember that everyone who does ROTC wants to do ROTC, even with its consequences. And if students find they’re not comfortable with the ROTC program, they’re given a very long trial period during which they can make that decision. The Navy paid for my entire freshman year at Stanford, and taught me an incredible amount and gave me all sorts of opportunities, and I was still able to leave the program the summer before sophomore year without having to pay a dime. My only debt is in gratitude.

    I did, in fact, leave ROTC because of what I saw as a limitation on my academic freedom: it was impossible for me to take Thursday classes, because I had to spend each Thursday at ROTC training way over in Berkeley. If ROTC was at Stanford, that limitation wouldn’t have existed, and I’d still be in the program.

  • Um

    I guess that many of us don’t think that those are very compelling reasons, and that are reasons that made sense in that context. The problem with the academic freedom argument is that students are choose those restrictions. As long as students are educated on the limitations of the program, and aren’t coerced into it (which isn’t really the case for the poor kids who go into the military every year for monetary reason) I see no reason why these arguments are terribly compelling.

  • Danny Colligan


    There is only so much one can say when limited to a couple minutes talking. If you want to read more of SSNW’s literature (where we address many of the pro-return points that were not contested at the town hall) see our website: http://www.stanford.edu/group/antiwar/articles.html

    The issue is not whether students can choose to do ROTC. As your experience demonstrates, they plainly can. The issue is if Stanford is going to give its stamp of approval to such a program by potentially providing land and resources to it.

    Furthermore, even if ROTC were approved by Stanford, it may very well be that the commutes for cadets would continue if the military wanted to save money by only running operations at schools where they already have a capital investment.