One of the main justifications given by proponents of ROTC’s return to Stanford was that an ROTC presence on campus would help to bridge the perceived divide between civilians and the military. Notwithstanding this aspiration, or last year’s decision by the faculty senate to invite ROTC back to campus, University officials now consider an ROTC return unlikely in the near future. The reasons for this are understandable and valid; military branches simply do not expect enough student participation in the ROTC program to justify its cost. Fiscal responsibility by the Pentagon, even though expenditure on a Stanford ROTC program would be vanishingly small in the context of U.S. military spending, is something all Americans can welcome and encourage. Nevertheless, the University’s original goal of bolstering civil-military engagement can and should push forward through other means for the time being. Greater participation in ROTC, if it is to come, will have to follow other measures.
Several alternatives to a full ROTC branch have already been floated, including Stanford-hosted ROTC events and Stanford-located ROTC courses conducted in partnership with other nearby universities. The University is also considering offering course credit for ROTC classes. These ideas could be complemented by courses open to all students dealing with present issues facing the U.S. military. The 2011 iteration of Stanford’s “Three Books” program, which provides three books free of charge to incoming freshmen with opportunities for discussion and access to a panel featuring the authors, focused this year on the theme of “war ethics.” Selection of this theme, chosen by political science professor Scott Sagan, represents a good first step in helping all students to consider the issue of war from many varying perspectives.
The U.S. military, for its part, could do more to convince students at top universities that service through the ROTC is an option worthy of consideration. Otherwise, there will never be enough cadets at places like Stanford to make the time and energy necessary to build a strong presence worthwhile. There are likely many students who reject or do not consider an ROTC option simply because its offerings are not a salient or well known. This is not to endorse a military career above others, but merely to note that students may be unaware of their options.
The debate over ROTC’s return last year at Stanford proved to be one of the most divisive campus issues in recent memory. Some opposed engagement with the military as a matter of principle, while others objected on the basis of transgender equality. With news that the ROTC likely won’t be coming to Stanford any time soon, some will likely ask whether last year’s seemingly endless melodrama was worth it. Whether or not one feels it was, and whether or not one is happy with the result, it was inarguably a good opportunity for all parties to air their opinions and participate in a rare dialogue about the role of the military in American society and on the Stanford campus. With nearly three million Americans serving in the military, Stanford would do well to make sure that this dialogue and the good that can come of it move forward in the future.