Stanford should invite ROTC back to campus, university committee says

A purposefully designed restructuring of ROTC would, on balance, further the educational interests of Stanford students, keep faith with the broadly civic values in Stanford's founding grant and contribute in a small but significant way to reducing the perceived gap between the military and civil society, the committee's report says.

The Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC at Stanford University has recommended that President John Hennessy invite the Reserve Officers' Training Corps back to campus, asserting that the excellent liberal education Stanford provides can contribute profoundly to the skills and virtues rightly expected of military leaders.

"Such men and women must be exemplary communicators and collaborators," the committee said in a 25-page report released Friday. "They must be adept at decision-making that is based on complex evidence, a high sense of moral principle and secure commitment to the rule of law. They must also interpret the tasks they are assigned in light of a rich understanding of the common good."

A "restructured" on-campus ROTC program also would augment the civic education of other Stanford undergraduates – an equally important task, the committee said.

"The opportunity to talk about patriotism, just and unjust war, human rights, imperialism and anti-colonialism, etc., in a classroom or dormitory that includes prospective officers in America's military is something from which all our students can benefit," the report said.

Ewart Thomas, the committee's chair, will present the report and recommendations to the Faculty Senate at its April 28 meeting. The report also is available on the senate's website. The senate is expected to vote on the recommendations at the Thursday meeting.

The other faculty members on the committee are Hester Gelber, religious studies; Eamonn Callan, education; Sharon Long, biology; Orrin "Rob" Robinson, German studies; and Scott Sagan, political science. The committee's two undergraduate student members – Akhil Iyer, '11, and Imani Franklin, '13 – are both international relations majors. Greg Boardman, vice provost for student affairs, serves on the committee. Ingrid Deiwiks, an administrative services administrator at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, served as the committee's staff person.

Recommendations of the committee

The committee did not try to specify the exact terms of an ROTC program, saying those details would arise out of future discussions with the military.

"Instead, we have tried to describe a well-designed process that, we believe, would lead to an appropriate on-campus ROTC program," the report said.

In the report, titled Towards an on-campus ROTC program at Stanford University, the 10-member committee unanimously recommended that:

  • The president of Stanford should invite the U.S. military to reestablish an on-campus ROTC program consistent with the recommendations of this committee.
  • The Faculty Senate should appoint immediately a Stanford ROTC committee as a standing subcommittee of the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy (C-USP). This committee would be available to advise the president during any exchanges between the university and the military that might ensue from this invitation. The committee also would work with ROTC representatives on the design and scope of the Stanford-ROTC program.
  • The Stanford ROTC committee and designated ROTC representatives will review the instructors and instruction of ROTC courses on campus. This committee, through C-USP, will recommend, on a case-by-case basis, whether an instructor be given lecturer or visiting professor status, and will be responsible for maintaining coordination between the university and the national ROTC programs. After the first ROTC instructors have been appointed, the Stanford ROTC committee may be expanded to include some of these instructors.
  • ROTC courses should be open to all Stanford students whether or not the students are in ROTC. Exceptions need to be approved by the Stanford ROTC committee.
  • The courses in the Stanford-ROTC program may be eligible for either academic or activity course credit, following existing Stanford curriculum review and approval processes.
  • The Stanford ROTC committee should encourage opportunities for Stanford faculty and ROTC instructors to design jointly taught courses that could meet both academic credit standards and ROTC training requirements. 

The report has five sections: a brief history of military studies on college campuses; a brief history of ROTC at Stanford; the committee's arguments for establishing an on-campus program; the key characteristics of such a program; and answers to the most serious objections to ROTC programs by members of the Stanford community.

The report's appendix includes a brief summary of ROTC programs at Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University, as well as a sample of arguments – pro and con – that the committee did not extensively discuss.

Don't ask, don't tell

The report said the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was a catalyst for proponents as well as – to its surprise – opponents of ROTC.

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.

Some members of the campus community have argued that the university should reject an on-campus ROTC program because the U.S. military continues to exclude transgender and medically disabled individuals from serving. Approving an ROTC program, those opponents said, would make Stanford complicit in civil rights violations and breach the university's own antidiscrimination policy.

"We are in agreement with some of what was said by those who proffered this objection," the report said. "For example, we fail to see any good reason for the current exclusion of persons from the American military merely because of their transgender status. But our committee did not set out to determine whether all the policies of the American military are fully in keeping with our nation's civic ideals. That seems to us far too high a standard to set in order to open the door to a more educationally productive relationship between Stanford University and ROTC."

The report said some of the "most trenchant arguments" presented by opponents "were marred by naïve and derogatory stereotypes" of the military.

"Unfortunately, such stereotypes are only to be expected given little contact between the military and our students, faculty and staff," the report said. "The increased contact that would likely characterize an on-campus ROTC program will contribute, the committee believes, in a small but significant way to reducing the perceived gap between the military and civil society in the USA."

The civilian-military divide

The report said some ROTC opponents argued that there was an "irreconcilable conflict between the values of a liberal education and the ends of military training." The committee said that argument depended on an "incomplete picture" of the military.

"Obedience to lawful authority is certainly a part of military roles," the report said. "But members of the officer corps must be able to do much more than obey orders. They must be capable of nuanced moral decision-making, independent problem-solving and responsible leadership. Such qualities are intrinsic to the ideal of liberal education. To be sure, we do not say that conflict cannot arise between military and academic values; we only deny that this conflict is so severe as to preclude a closer connection with ROTC at Stanford than currently exists."

In its report, the committee also addressed the concern that if a Stanford student on an ROTC scholarship decided to leave the program, the student would have to pay back the scholarship and would need financial aid to continue studying at Stanford.

"We believe that undergraduates at Stanford should certainly have the freedom to change vocational commitments without the worry of incurring prohibitive financial sacrifice," the report said. "Therefore, ROTC students who change their mind about a military career must have access to strong financial aid support to mitigate the costs of their decision."

The committee also rejected the argument that some ROTC students could, in some circumstances, be denied the academic freedom that is rightfully theirs.

"ROTC students are 'discouraged' by the military from reading materials on the WikiLeaks site because in so doing they may undermine their eligibility for future security clearance," the report said, referring to the whistle-blowing website. "But the discouragement is far from unique to ROTC students. Any student considering a career after graduation that would require security clearance would have good reason to avoid academic assignments that focus on classified documents."

The report said the controversy highlighted the fact that important ethical questions surround the academic use of classified materials that have become publicly available. However, "keeping ROTC at a distance from the Stanford community is not a part of any satisfactory answer to these questions," the report said.

If a Stanford instructor assigns classified documents that have become public in his or her classes, students may ask for accommodation and the instructor may then make or deny such accommodation, the report said.

The committee said the benefits and opportunities provided by an on-campus ROTC program extend beyond those participating directly in the program.

"We envision that courses, such as 'Ethics and Leadership,' would engage ROTC and non-ROTC students in frank and probing discussions about what it means to be a moral leader, and that Stanford professors would teach some of the required ROTC courses, such as 'Military History,'" the report said. "These curricular changes would expand the opportunities for educating Stanford students, including those who serve in the military, in citizenship, and this expansion cannot but contribute to mutual understanding between the military and civil society."

ROTC at Stanford today

Stanford currently has cross-enrollment agreements – established between 1975 and 1981 – with three nearby universities that have ROTC programs. Under the agreements, Stanford students enrolled in ROTC programs get military training while working on their degrees at Stanford. The 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.

Stanford students enrolled in Naval ROTC take military classes at the University of California-Berkeley. Air Force ROTC classes are held at San Jose State University. The Army ROTC program is based at Santa Clara University.

Stanford began hosting classes by Santa Clara University's Army ROTC program in 1997. Currently, six Army ROTC classes for freshmen and sophomores are held on the Stanford campus. The classes focus on leadership, including Foundations in Leadership and Leadership in Changing Environments.

Last January, the Haas Center for Public Service established a Military Service as Public Service project and began providing travel stipends to ROTC students.

Currently, there are 14 Stanford students enrolled in ROTC programs: five in the Army, two in the Air Force and seven in the Navy programs. 

Deliberations of the Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC

A year ago, the Faculty Senate asked the committee to "explore the logistical, financial and pedagogical implications of any such relationship for Stanford and its wider mission, and report back to the senate detailing a range of options the university might pursue and the consequences they can be expected to have."

Since then, the committee has held two town hall meetings – one for students and one for faculty and staff; met privately with small groups of students and faculty; and established a website and published an open letter requesting the Stanford community's thoughts on the issue. The committee read blogs sponsored by Stanford Says No to War and articles published in the Stanford Daily.

The committee members also read books, watched a documentary about the experiences of a U.S. platoon in Afghanistan and reviewed documents from the 1960s and 1970s describing the Stanford faculty debate over ROTC and the subsequent departure of the Army, Air Force and Naval ROTC programs. They researched ROTC programs at other universities. In addition, the committee met with senior ROTC officers from Santa Clara University and San Jose State University.

Thursday's Faculty Senate meeting

The April 28 Faculty Senate meeting, which is expected to attract wide interest on campus and from the media, will begin at 3:15 in Room 180 of the Law School. Stanford will provide an audio feed in Cubberley Auditorium for people who were not invited to the meeting but would like to listen to the proceedings.

During the meeting, discussion is limited to members of the senate. For information regarding admission by non-senate members, contact Assistant Academic Secretary Trish DelPozzo at 723-4992 or at

Most of the meeting will be devoted to the ROTC presentation and discussion.

Kathleen J. Sullivan, Stanford News Service: (650) 724-5708,