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Should Colleges Lift Their ROTC Bans?

Some schools say the military's policy on gays is discriminatory. But President Obama says it's time they welcome ROTC back to their campuses.

America's universities have had a tense relationship with the military since the Vietnam War.

That's when, in protest, some of the nation's most elite universities kicked the military's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) off their campuses—a policy that continues to this day at schools like Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and Stanford.

The ROTC program pays all tuition plus a stipend in exchange for four years of active-duty service and four years in the reserves after graduation. ROTC allows students who might not otherwise attend college to do so, and it provides a valuable pipeline of talent for the military—several thousand newly minted officers each year.

Most schools cite the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars homosexuals from openly serving in the military as the reason for keeping ROTC off campus. But however one feels about that policy, I believe it's more important to give students a chance to fulfill their civic duty by serving in the military.

Banning ROTC from campuses discourages our most talented young people from serving in the military at a time when we are fighting two wars and should do the opposite. As a student at Columbia, I had to spend two summers attending the Marine Corps' Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Va., because there was no ROTC on campus. But while there are other places to get officer training, as I did, one must already be a student to take advantage of them—and some people need ROTC's financial assistance to become a student.

American universities benefit from the rights and privileges of living in a free country in a volatile world. They are therefore obligated to do their part toward its military defense.

Returning ROTC to the campuses of all the nation's most elite schools would benefit students and strengthen the country.

Austin Byrd
Junior at Columbia University

When many of the nation's top universities expelled ROTC programs from their campuses in the late 1960s, the decision revolved largely around opposition to the Vietnam War and to the military in general.

Four decades later, at the handful of top-tier colleges where ROTC is still banned, the reasons have changed. For those of us who oppose letting ROTC return to schools like Columbia, where I am a student, it is not about opposition to war or the military; it is about fundamental fairness.

Since 1993, the U.S. military has operated under a policy known as "don't ask, don't tell," which requires gay and lesbian service members to keep their sexual orientation secret. If members of the armed forces are found to be gay, they can be discharged. In the last 15 years, more than 11,000 have been discharged under this policy—fired, essentially—for no reason other than being who they are.

This policy is discrimination, pure and simple.

Universities rightly hold themselves responsible for standing against discrimination of all types. Furthermore, our nation's most elite universities—Ivy League institutions like Columbia, Harvard, and Yale—have a particular responsibility to use their stature to promote positive behavior.

Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, put it this way: "Under the current 'don't ask, don't tell' policy of the Defense Department, openly gay and lesbian students could or would be excluded from participating in ROTC activities. That is inconsistent with the fundamental values of the university."

Colleges that ban ROTC from their campuses should continue to do so until "don't ask, don't tell" is abolished.

Laura Torre
Sophomore at Columbia University