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ROTC debate comes to Undergraduate Senate

The ASSU Undergraduate Senate heard from representatives of the Faculty Senate’s ad hoc committee on ROTC at its weekly meeting Tuesday evening and discussed the issue of ROTC’s possible return to campus.

Student representatives from Stanford Says No to War and Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL) attended and contributed to the debate.

“It’s your party,” said psychology professor Ewart Thomas, chair of the ad hoc committee on ROTC, welcoming questions from the senators.

Thomas outlined some of the central issues surrounding ROTC’s potential return to campus, such as academic freedom and academic quality for ROTC students.

Holding a copy of the San Jose Mercury News, Thomas referenced a Jan. 24 opinion piece by Stephen Zunes, a politics professor at the University of San Francisco. Zunes said he takes issue with a Dec. 8 ROTC memo prohibiting student use of classified information from WikiLeaks for course assignments, a policy he regards as sacrificing academic freedom.

“What this looks like is, censorship could be imposed on a class that Stanford has a hand in managing,” Thomas said. “This, I think, would be problematic.”

Sam Windley L.L.M. ’11, president of Stanford Says No to War, also commented on the opinion, describing “a slippery slope” when a university allows an outside institution, such as the military, to determine what is appropriate course material.

“Academic freedom is something Stanford should, and does, place a lot of emphasis on,” Windley said.

“This is an issue affecting us in a larger context than just ROTC,” said Hester Gelber, committee member and professor of religious studies, in reference to students interested in diplomacy careers being advised to avoid looking at WikiLeaks documents.

Senator Ben Jensen ’12 raised the issue of class disparity in military service and referenced his own experience. He weighed a career in the Air Force against coming to Stanford.

“Stanford students are going to be future leaders of the country and the world,” Jensen said. “I hope there’s a careful eye in the way that we look at this.”

Committee members said open discourse with the Stanford community will inform their final decision.

“The issue of discrimination has been front and center,” said Eamonn Callan, committee member and education professor.

“The fact-finding phase is a phase during which we have a responsibility to keep an open mind,” Callan added when asked more specifically about the committee’s findings thus far. “It’s our responsibility to listen, and that’s why we’re here tonight.”

Senator Juany Torres ’13 quoted President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, when he said, “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love, and with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.”

Gelber said the president’s remarks reflect the “university grappling with changing perspectives,” along with the country as a whole.

Janani Balasubramanian ’12 of SSQL later questioned whether Obama’s “one nation” includes those who are transgender.

Student representatives from SSQL raised the issue of military discrimination against transgender individuals.

“We feel that bringing back ROTC, a program that specifically says transgender people are not allowed, is a violation of [the University’s] non-discrimination policy,” Balasubramanian said.

“We are appalled at how this debate is being moved away from an issue of discrimination, which it fundamentally is,” said Alok Vaid-Menon ’13, president of SSQL.

Gelber urged the senators to remember that there will be “some pain for some constituencies” passionate about ROTC regardless of the committee’s findings.

The committee is expected to report is findings in May.

The Senate passed two bills Tuesday evening, one to expand the responsibilities of the Communications Committee to include technology and another altering the conflict-of-interests section in the Senate rules of order, no longer requiring senators to report their officer titles in student groups but accepting membership as a bar to assess conflicts of interest.

All funding bills for the evening were passed.

  • Jim

    On the transgener issue, it’s important to note that their current ineligibility to serve in uniform is based on medical issues concerns. So, the debate should focus on that point and not calls of general discrimination.

    So, we can debate whether the military should be allowed to discriminate at all based on medical concerns given the nature of the job in which case let’s fight for the rights of those who don’t meet weight standards, those who are insulin dependent, those who need an inhaler, those who have a torn ACL and haven’t had it repaired yet, ect.

    Or, and probably more appropriately, let’s focus on whether current medical concerns around mental health, need for hormones, or potential need for surgery are legitimate concerns from a medical stand point or not given the nature of the job and risk management concerns. Given that other nations are allowing service, they very well may be concerns not supported by current research. But, I feel we need to have medical professionals weigh in heavily here because they are the experts and that is where change needs to happen first. The services will never change their policy if the majority of medical professionals feel there is a legitimate issue, in which case we can return to the first part and argue whether medical qualifications are in general in conflict with the intent of the discrimination policy.

  • Non-Stanford ROTC advocate

    “Holding a copy of the San Jose Mercury News, Thomas referenced a Jan. 24 opinion piece by Stephen Zunes, a politics professor at the University of San Francisco. Zunes said he takes issue with a Dec. 8 ROTC memo prohibiting student use of classified information from WikiLeaks for course assignments, a policy he regards as sacrificing academic freedom.

    “What this looks like is, censorship could be imposed on a class that Stanford has a hand in managing,” Thomas said. “This, I think, would be problematic.”

    I’m an ROTC advocate at another university that’s currently deliberating ROTC return. We looked into the issue and talked to DoD people. I encourage Stanford, Professor Ewart Thomas, and Stanford ROTC advocates to do the same.

    Basically, there’s a lot of smoke – very little fire.

    First, the concern that DoD would arbitrarily restrict or has any interest in restricting ROTC cadets in their academic studies is unfounded and, frankly, not authorized. The intellectually demanding nature of their profession requires military officers who are creative, agile critical thinkers and lifelong learners; therefore, DoD is very careful not to stunt the formative (cadet) intellectual development of officers. Wikileaks is a unique case because the entire federal government, not just the military, is still working frantically to catch up on the unprecedented and massive breach of the government’s classified information system by Wikileaks.

    Second, while it’s true that federal employees have been issued strict guidelines about accessing the Wikileaks site on government systems, ROTC cadets are not – I repeat, ARE NOT – regulated by those guidelines and do not fall under UCMJ. ROTC commanders have NO authority to restrict their cadets’ non-ROTC academic work.

    So what about Prof Zunes’s complaint? All military officers, like many government officials, are required to obtain security clearances due to the nature of their work. If an officer is denied a security clearance, she or he will – to say the least – face limited job prospects. That holds true for many civilian federal positions as well, hence the similar concerns about Wikileaks by non-military students considering a career in the State Department and other federal agencies. (One hopes professors like Professor Zunes and Professor Gelber would show some sensitivity to their students’ career ambitions, but I digress.)

    Other ROTC commanders have reacted to the Wikileaks and security clearance concern simply by advising their cadets to use their judgement and discretion and to inform them of the possibility that researching the Wikileaks site may inadvertently lead them to do something that may later affect their security investigations. Again, a similar concern has been communicated by students considering employment in civilian federal agencies.

    However, the ROTC commander starring in Professor Zunes’s article apparently has applied the Wikileaks guidance now being issued to federal employees directly – and inappropriately – to his cadets. It appears we’re dealing with is an ROTC commander who is well-meaning in his concern about his cadets’ careers. But his memo to his cadets was, to say the least, overzealous. And he overstepped his authority.

    Again, there’s a lot of smoke, and not much fire, caused by a well-meaning but overzealous ROTC commander and a well-meaning professor who perhaps should have looked into the issue before firing off an incendiary, viral opinion piece. Once again, I encourage Stanford, Professor Ewart Thomas, and Stanford ROTC advocates to verify everything I just said for yourselves.