Widgets Magazine


Letter: ROTC: Lift the ban, but don’t hold your breath

Dear Editor,

Despite the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), support for Stanford’s ban on ROTC persists in predictable quarters on campus. The arguments in favor of such a ban are no better than those advanced some four decades ago.

Military science courses, we are told, lack academic rigor. This is news to midshipmen at Naval ROTC Berkeley, who are required to study ship systems and engineering, courses far more challenging than, say, PWR. The claim that ROTC instructors aren’t qualified is equally ludicrous. Professors without doctorates can be found across campus; accomplished military officers teaching courses about the military is little different than successful executives and practicing lawyers lecturing at GSB and the law school.

ROTC, we are warned, violates academic freedom by forcing students into certain careers with certain employers and restricting their majors. But nobody is forced to join, the rules and expectations are made clear from the start, and there is a dropout procedure. It never seems to occur to ROTC critics that students might sincerely desire to be military officers. The mistake is to view the U.S. military as simply another employer, not worthy of any special recognition.

Finally, the latest line of attack is the military’s ban of transgender individuals. This gives little pause to those who felt the ROTC prohibition was foolish to begin with, but for others who insisted on a repeal of DADT prior to lifting the ban on ROTC, it’s a thornier problem. It’s also a canard. Even if the transgender ban were removed, ROTC opponents would still find an objection. They might insist that ROTC stay banned until the first female is appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs, for example, or until nuclear weapons are eliminated.

The ban on ROTC, then, should be repealed because common sense and patriotic decency demand that Stanford permits its return to campus. But lifting the ban is only the beginning. Proponents of ROTC underestimate how difficult it may be.

For starters, the enormous endowment means few students really need the money anymore. It also provides all sorts of opportunities for undergraduates to take full advantage of the college experience, from funded research projects to overseas travel. With programs like direct commissioning, Officer Candidate School for the Army and Navy or Officer Training School for the Air Force, students interested in the military have many possible pathways into the services after graduation, permitting them personal and academic flexibility during their time on the Farm.

The Berkeley Naval ROTC unit can muster some 60 students from four different schools, including UC-Davis. Just a handful hail from Stanford. Whether the Defense Department will find a critical mass of interested Cardinal remains to be seen. Elite academia, including the Ivy League and Stanford, banned ROTC some 40 years ago, setting them on paths that diverged widely from the military. The question is whether this chasm has narrowed since then. I fear it has only widened.

Tristan Abbey ’08

  • ArmyVet

    DADT has NOT been repealed yet. This letter needs to be rewritten starting with facts.

  • Different army vet

    “… Officer Candidate School for the Army …”

    Speaking for the Army at least, it should be noted that alternative commissioning routes are not equivalent to ROTC. The traditional routes to military officership are West Point and ROTC, ie, programs that either are joined with or partner with the traditional collegiate path. Simply, officers are required to be college graduates, so the vast majority of officers come from the two traditional commissioning routes. If the goals are to improve Stanford access, exposure, and interaction with the military, and facilitate more Stanfordians becoming Army leaders, then restoring ROTC on campus is the way.

    While college graduates who did not or could not do ROTC can take a non-traditional path to a commission, the alternative commissioning routes are designed more for prior enlisted soldiers or for specific specialties.

    ArmyVet, calm down. Stanford has been deliberating ROTC since before DADT was repealed. Yes, we know that since President Obama signed DADT repeal into law, the process of working out the implementation details, pending leadership certification, has been underway.

  • Fact Check

    “…but for others who insisted on a repeal of DADT prior to lifting the ban on ROTC, it’s a thornier problem.”

    Discrimination against transgender people is based in gender identity, NOT sexual orientation, which is what DADT addressed. Gender identity has nothing to do with DADT.

  • Different army vet

    President Obama, 2011 State of the Union:
    “Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. 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 of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.”

  • Robin Thomas

    Thanks, Tristan, for a very well-written article.

    With respect to the issue of transgender people serving, I think it was articulated very nicely at the ROTC town hall discussion that if people want this policy to change, then they should take it up with Congress. The military itself has no power to overturn this issue.

  • agree with Fact Check

    Tristan, you are completely sidestepping the issue of transgendered students. Your reply is simply “well, they’re not really complaining about the transgender issue, they’re just trying to find anything to stop ROTC.” If you pull your head out of your ***, you’ll find that many people–including the many transgender students (apparent or not–there are far more than you think) at Stanford–are truly against ROTC because of this. I would think an alum would be more sensitive to different groups on Stanford’s campus, which is part of the reason why Stanford promotes diversity, but clearly this initiative failed you. In the meantime, please open up the nearest Stanford bulletin or google it–Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy specifically includes “gender identity,” and if ROTC, which continues to practice this gross discrimination, is allowed a space on campus, it brings that discrimination to campus. There will be a place on campus that transgendered students are not welcome. Reinstating ROTC would be a grave step backward in Stanford’s progressive policies in making every group welcome on its campus. And if two groups come in conflict (here, transgendered students and ROTC students), Stanford must make a choice. I think we know which choice is more in line with Stanford’s philosophy.

  • Robin Thomas

    Hi, Fact Check.

    See, what bugs me is this whole “a place where Stanford students will not be welcome” thing. That makes it sound like if a transgender person shows up to the ROTC building for any reason, then all sorts of verbal abuse and could-shouldering will be heaped upon them. Based on my past experience as a member of NROTC, I can’t imagine that happening. Yes, it’s true that transgender people wouldn’t be allowed to be midshipmen or cadets. However, they could still take ROTC classes, interact with the military-appointed instructors, participate in many ROTC events, and so forth, just like every other Stanford student.

    And if anything’s regressive, it’s keeping the military separated from the open-mindedness and social tolerance of Stanford by not allowing it at this university.

  • Erika

    Your arguments are good, but they do nothing to change the fact that INNOCENT people are dying every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every little thing we do to stop the ILLEGAL wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even keeping ROTC off of Stanford’s campus, saves innocent lives.

    Clearly, killing innocent people is a violation of the Fundamental Standard.

    Erica Halpern ’14
    Stanford Says No To War

  • Jim


    I’d be interested to see your logic in how keeping ROTC off campus helps save innocent lives … To begin, you’d have to make the assumption that most in the military prefer war and killing, which is just not true. Service men and women, who bear the physical and psychological brunt of the decisions our civilian leadership make, want war no more than Stanford Says No to War does.

    Junior officers make a lot of decisions every day — which doors to kick-in, often when to pull triggers and when to pass out soccer balls. If you want Stanford to have an impact, if only on a select few, then you need to consider what Stanford can do to prepare future officers for these situations.

    While banishing ROTC may serve as a message in Stanford Says No To Wars eyes, it does nothing to impact the decisions American leaders make and has no impact on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military doesn’t need Stanford, but there is value to be gained by the military and by Stanford by having a relationship. Ignoring a problem never helps, looking how you can actually impact change is much more powerful.

  • Different army vet

    Over at Fiat Lux, a pro-ROTC law student (self-identified) is arguing that ROTC would not violate Stanford’s non-discrimination policy per se due to the difference between lawful and unlawful discrimination.

    Example: “If anything, ROTC cadets have a stronger claim than transgender students to the protection of Stanford’s non-discrimination policy because, while US military policy on the transgender characteristic is lawful, California and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination against “military-connected” (to borrow Sam Windley’s term) persons. … In any case, assuming ROTC advocates decline to invoke anti-discrimination laws that protect military status, the Stanford ROTC debate is a level playing field insofar as Stanford’s non-discrimination policy.”



  • EC

    agree with Fact Check,

    ROTC would not violate Stanford’s non-discrimination policy. Read it more carefully.

  • Robin Thomas

    Well put, Jim. Stanford continuing to ban ROTC really won’t affect anyone, positively or negatively. It’s an inaction.

    I think, though, that “Erika” is a troll. I just tried to send her an e-mail asking if we could talk about this some more, and she doesn’t exist in the Stanford directory. Ha haaaa! 🙂

  • Re: troll

    Look at the post by “Erika” again. She spells her name “Erika” at the top of her post, and “Erica” in the signature line.

  • Erika

    Erica is my given name; Erika is my nickname.

    Erica Halpern ‘14
    Stanford Says No To War

  • Erika

    Also, discriminating against transexuals, and people who think they are plants or animals, is just plain wrong.

    Erica Halpern ‘14
    Stanford Says No To War

  • Robin Thomas

    Hah! Yeah, sorry Erica. None of the three Halperns at Stanford are Ericas or Erikas, according to StanfordWho. We have a Benjamin, but Erika seems like a weird nickname for that. 🙂

  • Erika

    I have strict privacy settings in Stanford Who because I don’t like the idea of strangers creeping in my directory listing.

    Erica Halpern ‘14
    Stanford Says No To War

  • EC

    Discriminating against “military-connected” people is wrong and against the law.

  • Jason Dunkel

    Good article.

    You brought up a point that has been mentioned in the articles covering the faculty senate discussion on this topic, and that is that students who choose to drop out of ROTC might be held financially responsible for not continuing the program. For some reason though, that does not seem to matter for some of our international students (most from asian countries) who come to school on scholarship from their government. In my discussions with them, I learned that some of those countries require their students to complete a specified major and threaten them with steep fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars if they don’t return to and work for the country for some time. Specifically, a Thai student I know was contractual obligated to be a chemistry major. A Malaysian student was told that he needed to work for the government for 10 years, or his family would need to pay $250,000 (which, he assured me is much more money than they will make in many many years).

    This makes me think that some on the campus are looking for any excuse to keep ROTC away not for any genuine concern about students, but merely because of their anti-military bias.