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The Gang of 14

The clock reads 3:30 a.m. on a Monday. Most people across campus are fast asleep; others are finishing papers and problem sets. For Aly Gleason ’13 and Kirk Morrow ’11, the day has already begun. They need to make it to San Jose by 5 a.m. for their early morning physical training for Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).

Stanford's fourteen undergraduates involved in ROTC must balance on-campus academics with their off-campus ROTC commitments. Stanford students and faculty are currently debating ROTC's return to campus. The University officially phased out the ROTC program in 1973. (Courtesy of Akhil Iyer)

As elite universities across the nation weigh the pros and cons of reinstating ROTC on their campuses, Stanford students and faculty have begun lining up on both sides of the argument. Yet for as much debate and discussion that these four letters have stirred all over campus this year, very few within the Stanford community know much about the fourteen students currently participating in the program.

Fourteen out of 6,887 students–the ROTC community on campus is approximately the same size as an IHUM section. Hailing from all over the United States, spanning all four classes, bringing different backgrounds, they represent the diversity, talent and passion of Stanford students. But as the national spotlight has shifted to their program, most of the individual cadets don’t notice much of a difference between those in ROTC and their peers.

“We’re just like anyone else who got into Stanford,” said Lillian McBee ’14. “We got in through the same selection process. We’re not that different from everyone else.”

Their schedule, however, is far from typical.

Depending on the week, with service and their ROTC-given jobs, cadets commute anywhere from two to six times per week to their respective service’s location. Stanford’s ROTC program was officially phased out from campus in 1973 and the University declined to award academic units for students who remotely participated in the program. As a result, Stanford’s current Naval and Marine cadets go to UC-Berkeley, the Air Force cadets go to San Jose State University and the Army candidates go to Santa Clara University.

The commutes to these schools, which range from half an hour to an hour on a good day, impact the course selection and extracurricular activities of the cadets.

“The commute is part of the time commitment,” said Morrow. “There’s definitely been a few times where there’s been a class that I wanted to take but I couldn’t because I would need to be leaving to go to ROTC at the tail end…It was more of the commute that kept me from taking a class than it was ROTC events.”

“The fact that it’s not on campus has inhibited my ability to have academic freedom in terms of choosing classes,” added Jimmy Ruck ’11.

The cadets are required to take ROTC classes, which differ from their Stanford course-load.

“The classes are not exactly the same as Stanford classes because they’ve been fine tuned to give us the officer development that we need,” added Morrow. “So they would be a great supplement to Stanford classes.”

“For both ROTC classes I’ve had to work way more than I’ve ever had to work for IHUM,” McBee said. “And sophomores and upperclassmen have even harder classes..the whole thing about classes not being hard enough is definitely unfounded.”

The difficulty of ROTC classes has prompted some to question why Stanford does not award academic credit for the courses.

“The main issue for me is that Stanford doesn’t even recognize this as credit. If you took yoga, you get one unit of non-academic credit,” said Ruck. “At the very least, Stanford can grant that to ROTC. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s comparable, if not a lot more strenuous and time-intensive and physically demanding, than some of these non-academic units.”

Most ROTC students spend at least part of four days per week with their battalion performing a wide range of activities including physical training, leadership activities, classes and meetings.

Every Wednesday morning, ROTC cadets from all four branches meet together on campus for physical training. All Stanford military-affiliated persons are invited, and it is the only time the cadets are together as Stanford students, not at their separate schools.

The days can be long, especially on Thursdays when the cadets often leave around noon and do not return to campus until after 10 p.m. Gleason, who is also a Division I athlete, noted that the balance can be difficult at times.

“Our coaches are pretty understanding that ROTC is where I want to go with my life…I’m in 15 units right now and I couldn’t take another class if I tried. I would actually fail it.”

However, it is clear to these students that Stanford academics come first.

“Our main priority is school and our second priority is ROTC, and everything else comes after that,” McBee said. “While ROTC is a big part of what we do, our academics come first, which is explicitly stated in the program.”

Ruck believes the return of ROTC is important for the education of students and future officers alike.

“People will become more exposed to the personal side of the military and learn more about what this aspect of our nation does on a daily basis,” Ruck said.

“Whether we like it or not, the military is going to be a fundamental part of foreign policy that shapes our events and world events for decades to come, so its something that I feel like any citizen of any country should have at least a baseline knowledge of the American military.”

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Billy Gallagher

Billy Gallagher

Billy Gallagher is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. He has previously worked at The Daily as editor in chief, a managing editor of news, news desk editor, sports desk editor and staff development editor. He is a junior from Villanova, PA majoring in Economics. He is also a writer for TechCrunch.