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Stanford's Faculty Senate approves process for bringing ROTC back to campus

Under a proposal approved Thursday, Stanford will invite the U.S. military to establish an ROTC program at Stanford, and the senate will appoint a committee to work with the military on the design and scope of the new program.

Photos by L.A. Cicero Ewart Thomas

Ewart Thomas, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC, presents the recommendation of the committee to the Faculty Senate.

Gary Segura

Faculty senator Gary Segura, professor of political science, outlines his objections to ROTC at Stanford.

BY KATHLEEN J. SULLIVAN

The Faculty Senate on Thursday approved a proposal to establish a "restructured" Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at Stanford after a 40-year hiatus.

In a 28-9 vote, the senate accepted the six-point proposal recommended by the Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC in its report, Towards an on-campus ROTC program at Stanford University, and approved three amendments. Three faculty members abstained from the vote.

In a joint statement released after the meeting, President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy said they would begin conversations with the U.S. military about the process for reestablishing ROTC at Stanford.

As the members of the senate filed into the meeting in the Law School, they passed a group of about 50 students demonstrating against the proposal. Their signs and chants focused primarily on military discrimination against transgender people, who are excluded from service. "Trans rights are human rights," one sign said.

The issue of military discrimination against transgender people was also an issue of concern inside the building.

Psychology Professor Ewart Thomas, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC, said the "most wrenching" arguments he heard against reinstating ROTC came from some of the many supporters of Stanford's transgender students.

He said the committee failed to see any good reason for excluding transgender people from service, merely because they are transgender, adding that transgender troops are allowed in Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Israel, the Czech Republic, Thailand and Australia. Thomas said the U.S. military equates transgender identity – in which people present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth – with gender identity disorder, a mental illness – an assessment that troubled the committee.

However, Thomas said the committee rejected the other argument made by supporters of transgender students – that establishing a program on campus would violate Stanford's nondiscrimination policy.

"Stanford will continue to admit students, whether they belong to ROTC or not," he said. "They will do so through an impartial admission process and then protect them from discrimination in university-administered policies and programs. In particular, any ROTC courses offered at Stanford should be open to all students whether the student is in ROTC or not. It is primarily this expectation of inclusion that leads us to reject as unfounded the concern about the university's violating its own nondiscrimination policy."

Invited during the discussion to address the issue, Stanford General Counsel Debra Zumwalt confirmed the committee's assessment that an on-campus ROTC would not violate the university's nondiscrimination policy.

In their joint statement, Hennessy and Etchemendy said they shared the concerns about the military's continuing discrimination against transgender people.

"But if the leadership of the military is drawn from communities that teach and practice true tolerance, change is more likely to occur," they said. "The U.S. military has demonstrated an ability and willingness to change over time, and we believe Stanford can contribute by providing leaders capable of helping create that change."

However, Gary Segura, political science, questioned those assertions.

"First, the Department of Defense and ROTC programs are not today in compliance with our own existing nondiscrimination policy," he said. "With respect to 'don't ask, don't tell,' that repeal is neither accomplished nor irreversible.

"Two, even should the DADT be repealed and stay so, it remains the case that ROTC and the military itself will not accept all Stanford students. This remains a violation of our policy. The committee's response to this appears to be little more than a wink and a nod and the almost silly claim that interaction between the institution and the Department of Defense and Stanford might somehow spread our values. That's a lovely thought, but it seems unlikely."

In late 2010, President Barack Obama signed a landmark law ending the 17-year-old policy, which forced gays and lesbians to hide their sexual orientation or face dismissal. The new law will go into effect 60 days after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates certifies to Congress that the Pentagon is ready to implement the repeal. If military training on the new policy continues at its current pace, that could happen as early as September, Pentagon officials told Congress earlier this month.

David Palumbo-Liu, comparative literature, said he was concerned about the "fit" between Stanford's mission as a liberal arts university committed to critical and self-reflective thinking and ROTC's mission.

Protesters remain at the site of the meeting to chant while senators exit.

Protesters remain at the site of the meeting to chant while senators exit.

"I would be more willing to vote in favor of this motion if I were assured that Stanford's ROTC program would have, as part of its core curriculum, courses that had truly substantial critical dimensions," he said, adding that such courses should address issues such as leadership, war and "the very premise of military solutions to political problems."

Scott Sagan, a professor of political science and a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC, said all ROTC programs require the study of ethics and war. Sagan, co-director of Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation, said he was impressed when he reviewed two textbooks used by the Navy ROTC program at the University of California-Berkeley. He said they covered a wide spectrum of political theory as well as case studies of military crimes, from the 1968 My Lai Massacre in Vietnam to the prisoner abuse and torture that occurred in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq beginning in 2004.

Bob Simoni, biology, said he strongly supported the proposal to reestablish ROTC on campus, adding that the program would serve students and Stanford well.

Kenneth Taylor, philosophy, who also strongly supported the proposal, said Stanford trains its students to occupy high positions in business, politics and academia in the belief that they will make a difference to those institutions.

"I don't quite see what would justify us saying to students, 'well, we're going to make it harder for you [to become a military officer at Stanford], because the military is not perfect and we just don't endorse that imperfect institution,'" he said.

"We have a military that's answerable to civilian authority," Taylor continued. "I think that's a very important thing. We should do our part to educate those people. We are in the business of educating the elite, right? Many of our students have aspirations of being part of the civilian authority that governs the military. We do our darnedest to educate them to be hard-thinking, right-thinking, morally responsible and morally responsive, even though our civilian authority isn't perfect. I don't see why we shouldn't do our darnedest to contribute to the education of the people who will be ultimately answerable to that civilian authority."

The senate extended its meeting by 30 minutes to accommodate everyone who wanted to speak, including Michael Cruz, the new president of the Associated Students of Stanford University, who opposed the measure, and Imani Franklin, a sophomore and member of the Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC, who supported it.

Under the proposal, the senate will appoint a Stanford ROTC Committee to work with the military on the design and scope of the new program. The committee will recommend, on a case-by-case basis, whether an ROTC instructor will be given lecturer or visiting professor status.

In addition, the new committee will encourage Stanford faculty and ROTC instructors to design jointly taught courses that could meet both academic credit standards and ROTC training requirements.

The ROTC courses would be open to all Stanford students, unless the committee approved an exception, and the courses "may be eligible for either academic or activity course credit, following existing Stanford curriculum review and approval processes," according to the proposal.

Currently, Stanford ROTC students get their military training – Army, Navy and Air Force – at nearby universities with ROTC programs. (Stanford phased out its on-campus ROTC programs from 1971 to 1973.) At present, ROTC courses do not qualify to be used toward the 12-unit requirement for full-time registration status or satisfactory academic progress requirements for Stanford undergraduates.

The senate also approved three amendments to the proposal designed to protect the rights of Stanford ROTC students to choose any undergraduate major; to ensure that the new Stanford ROTC Committee would report back regularly to the senate; and to emphasize that the faculty does not support the military's transgender policies.

Full text of statement by President Hennessy and Provost Etchemendy

"The recommendation to invite the U.S. military's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program to Stanford University rests first with the faculty. Based on the vote of the Faculty Senate, we will begin conversations with the U.S. military about the process for reestablishing ROTC at Stanford.

"As a U.S. university, Stanford has from its beginning considered it an obligation to help train our nation's leaders. Stanford prides itself on educating young people who seek out ways to serve and who have the ability to change the world for the better. Our country needs innovative, broadly educated military leaders, and we believe that Stanford – as one of the nation's leading universities – has a responsibility to help prepare them.

"We are honored and proud to have many excellent current students and alumni who have served in the military. We have deep faith in the character of our students and the quality of the education we provide, and we are convinced that our graduates will be influential members of our nation's leadership. We also believe that ROTC's presence on our campus will be mutually beneficial. It will provide all students with opportunities for discussion about civic responsibility, human rights and the role of the military.

"Our support for reestablishing the ROTC program should not be misconstrued. We understand the concerns about the military's continuing discrimination against transgender people, and we share those concerns. But if the leadership of the military is drawn from communities that teach and practice true tolerance, change is more likely to occur. The U.S. military has demonstrated an ability and willingness to change over time, and we believe Stanford can contribute by providing leaders capable of helping create that change."

Minutes available next week

The full minutes of the meeting, including the question-and-answer sessions that followed the presentations, will be available next week on the senate's website.

The next senate meeting will be held May 12.

Media Contact

Kathleen J. Sullivan, Stanford News Service: (650) 724-5708, kathleenjsullivan@stanford.edu