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Op-Ed: ROTC is our choice. Let’s make the right one

While the debate over the prospect of ROTC returning to campus continues in print, the majority of the Stanford student body has yet to take ownership of this issue. But with the ad hoc Faculty Senate committee having already set a deadline for community submissions (Nov. 22), now is the time for all students to get informed and make their views heard.

One impediment to student involvement in the debate thus far has been the framing of arguments in terms of Stanford having an “obligation” to permit ROTC to return (Kyle O’Malley and Evan Storms writing in the Stanford Review on Nov. 7) or what Stanford “owes” students enrolled in ROTC (the Stanford Daily editorial board on Sept. 29). To be absolutely clear: Stanford is a private institution and has absolutely no obligation, legal or otherwise, to either permit or prohibit ROTC’s presence on campus.

This is an important and exciting fact. It means that we, as students, have complete freedom to decide whether or not we want to permit the military of this country to have an ROTC presence on our campus. Obviously there’s no guarantee that the University’s final decision will reflect student opinion, but we can surely be confident that our views, if expressed openly and articulately, will play a significant role in the administration’s decision-making process.

So the question we must all consider is clear: should we permit the military to have an ROTC presence on campus? The answer will logically depend on what the effects of on-campus ROTC would be and, if the effects of on-campus ROTC would be positive overall, whether Stanford’s resources could instead be allocated in ways that would have greater positive overall effects.

Of course, if the effects of on-campus ROTC would be negative overall, as my research has led me to suspect, there is no need to consider the opportunity cost of allocating Stanford’s resources to this cause. However, if your own research leads to a different conclusion with respect to the effects of on-campus ROTC, don’t forget to also consider the fact that, by allocating resources to ROTC, Stanford would not be in a position to allocate resources to some other, potentially more beneficial, project.

As for the probable effects of on-campus ROTC, one way to approach the issue is to ask why the military would ostensibly jump at the chance to establish an ROTC training center on our campus. Would this enable them to significantly increase the number of scholarships they grant? Probably not. The number of scholarships is largely determined by the military’s need for officers (which, incidentally, is currently quite low in all branches other than the army). And even if it would increase the number of scholarships or cause more students to join, I’m not sure that convenience should be the dispositive factor in students’ decisions to dedicate nine to 12 years of their lives to the military.

Would it enable the military to train ROTC candidates more efficiently? Again, probably not. While it may be less convenient for the students being trained, it is surely more efficient for large numbers of students to be trained in a single location than in multiple smaller training centers. (One exception might be if Stanford was to bear a significant portion of the cost of establishing the on-campus center, which would, in my view, be a highly questionable use of University resources.) So what would be the military’s motivation for coming here?

Michael Schwartz, professor of sociology at S.U.N.Y. Stony Brook, offered the following explanation last year: The military hopes a “highly visible presence on (especially a high prestige) campus…will provide the opportunity for the military to integrate itself into campus life.” He continues: “ROTC programs on…campus allow the military to burnish its image while presenting its distinct point of view about national and global issues to the campus.”

Observations such as these leave me seriously doubting the positive effects of on-campus ROTC. But whatever your conclusions, I urge you to take ownership of this issue. Do your own research, talk to other students and make your voice heard, while also remaining open to changing your opinion if presented with new information. The future character of our campus depends on it.

Sam Windley LL.M. ’11

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