Committee 'schooled' on ROTC, seeking more input from faculty and staff

 Over the last six months, the Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC has been collecting facts and points of view by reading books, watching a documentary, conducting interviews and reading letters written by members of the Stanford community.

L.A. Cicero Ewart Thomas

Ewart Thomas, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC, said the group's first task was to gather information on the issue.

The Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC will hold a meeting for faculty and staff from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday in Encina Hall to discuss the arguments for and against the possible reinstatement of the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Stanford.

The meeting will be held in the central conference room on the second floor of Encina Hall, located at 616 Serra St., between Galvez Mall and Arguello Way.

Ewart Thomas, chair of the 10-member committee, said he hopes to have a "frank discussion" about the issue at the meeting. (The committee held a meeting for students earlier this week.)

Last year, the Faculty Senate asked the committee to "investigate Stanford University's role in preparing students for leadership in the military, including potential relations with ROTC. The committee should 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."

The committee, which has held several meetings over the last six months, is still in the information-gathering stage of its investigation.

The committee does some homework

"The first thing we decided we had to do was to become informed," Thomas, a professor of psychology, said during a recent interview in his office in the Main Quad. "I think most of us would say that we hadn't thought much about the ROTC issue. I felt that we needed to do a lot of homework. The committee agreed."

The committee members have read books, including The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers, by Nancy Sherman, and Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point, by David Lipsky.

They watched a documentary, Restrepo: One Platoon, One Valley, One Year, which chronicles the deployment of 15 U.S. soldiers in a remote outpost in Afghanistan.

The committee also commissioned a literature review about the state of civil-military relations in the United States.

"I learned that there is a polarity at work here, where some people argue that the military is best left alone by civil society, that too much interference reduces the efficiency of the military," Thomas said.

"The other point of view is quite the opposite, that it's very important to uphold the principle of civilian leadership of the military. It helped me understand what the perceived dangers of a disjunction between civil society and military might be."

The committee reviewed documents from the late 1960s and early 1970s about the Stanford faculty debate over ROTC, which occurred during the Vietnam War, and the subsequent departure of the Army, Air Force and Navy ROTC programs.

The committee has posted some of those documents, including a 34-page report, Stanford University and the ROTC Departments: A Report and Recommendations, written by a 1969 senate committee, on its website.

In addition, the committee met with senior ROTC officers from the Army ROTC program at Santa Clara University and the Air Force ROTC program at San Jose State University. (Officers at the Navy and Marine Corps ROTC programs at the University of California-Berkeley politely declined the invitation, Thomas said.)

ROTC at Stanford today

Stanford has cross-enrollment agreements – established between 1975 and 1981 – with those three universities. Under the pacts, Stanford students get military training while working on their degrees at Stanford.  Currently there are 14 Stanford students enrolled in ROTC programs; five in Army, two in Air Force and seven in Navy. 

Students enrolled in Navy and Marine Corps ROTC take military classes at UC-Berkeley; Air Force ROTC classes are held at San Jose State. 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 "Leadership and Personal Development" and "Leadership in Changing Environments."

The 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.

Thomas said he thinks the main issue in the debate over reinstating ROTC in the future will be the academic "worthiness" of ROTC courses.

"We imagine, although we haven't gotten to the stage of drafting a recommendation, that if we were to attempt to reinstate ROTC, it would have to pass muster as a set of courses that, if they were to get credit deserve credit," he said. "Again, we haven't done that analysis, because we don't have a proposal."

Reading your letters

The ad hoc committee has received more than five dozen letters from faculty and students. Thomas said he was struck by the depth of intellectualism and passion in the letters – on both sides of the argument.

 "The students are bright, the faculty are thoughtful, so if you get a letter from them it's going to be a piece of scholarship," he said. "It's kind of heartening that this is so."

Thomas said he hopes a significant number of people who cited the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy as the reason for objecting to an ROTC program will switch sides, since President Obama has signed a law repealing the measure.

The 1993 law prohibited gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from disclosing their sexual orientation while serving in the U.S. military.

The repeal will not take effect until 60 days after Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, certify that new policies and implementing regulations are consistent with standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion and retention.

Last week, Gates described the Pentagon's three-step process for preparing to allow gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly in the military.

However, Thomas said some people told the committee that "don't ask, don't tell" had no bearing on their opposition to reviving ROTC on campus.

"For example, they said they didn't like the compromises an academic institution has to make for an ROTC program," he said. "That objection is going to remain."

Thomas said it's good to know what the Stanford community likes and dislikes about the prospect of establishing an ROTC program on campus.

"But we decided that we will not be able to satisfactorily demolish every argument raised against whatever it is we propose," he said.

"Let's say we propose that there be no program. There will be arguments in favor of a program and those proponents would argue that we failed in adequately addressing their arguments. Conversely, if we propose that Stanford establish a program, there will be opponents who say, 'but why are you proposing a program when we have this argument that you haven't satisfactorily addressed.' We'll do our best, but it's not a goal that every argument must be demolished."

The committee is expected to present its report to the Faculty Senate in May.