From the wide-ranging commitments of the Haas Center to the variety of tables at the activities fair on Friday, Stanford prides itself on an unwavering commitment to service. It holds a special esteem in our community, yet conspicuously absent from the view is service of a particular kind: that of the men and women serving the nation in the military. In 2010, almost four decades after the removal of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) on campus, the University still does not allow the program to maintain a presence on campus or offer academic credit for its courses.
Originally enacted in the latter stages of the Vietnam War, the ban is currently justified as a protest against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy banning openly gay service people. A committee of the Faculty Senate began considering in March the idea of reinstating ROTC on campus. Some at Stanford, however, have indicated that a repeal of DADT might be a prerequisite to reinstating the program.
The editorial board supports the University’s intentions in defending the rights of the LGBT community, but believes these concerns should be part of a broader discourse on the matter. To be sure, the military’s mandated exclusion of certain groups based on their sexuality constitutes an egregious violation of civil rights. To the extent that excluding ROTC from certain universities publicizes this discrimination or exerts political pressure in opposition, it is beneficial to the military and the nation. But holding ROTC hostage to the potential repeal of the policy, which has floundered in Congress despite widespread support from political and military leadership, only empowers a political failure to cause two detrimental outcomes instead of one. Delaying the return of ROTC just adds to the damage done by DADT.
The most direct impact of the ROTC ban falls on the handful of dedicated Stanford students who have chosen to enlist anyway, making the commute to Berkeley, Santa Clara or San Jose for their service. The extra effort these students must make to participate in these off-campus programs and the constraints to their course scheduling, exacerbated by the lack of ROTC academic credit, are unacceptable. Even more so is the snub these students receive from a university that pays their activities no official regard. Stanford owes these students — as well as those who might have chosen to serve had the opportunities been more available -– its fullest support.
It is not just those students who suffer from the exclusion of ROTC. All Stanford students do. If diversity is part of the University’s mission, exposure to the military ought to be a valued element. If the University aims to educate future leaders, students must have the opportunity to understand and interact with those who commit themselves to defending our nation. We must strive to avoid a world where the people fighting our wars are disconnected from those who decide to start them. Furthermore, the forced separation of our armed forces from top universities only intensifies the socioeconomic and educational inequalities that already pervade military demographics.
All this leads to one point that should go without saying: soldiers don’t cause wars. They only suffer the consequences.
Whether or not we approve of any given conflict, we as a society must hold our armed forces in the highest esteem. Most Stanford students would likely support this idea in theory, but the University and its students must make sure they also do so in practice. It is time for Stanford to do the right thing and send the right message by allowing the ROTC back on campus.