Members of Penn’s Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps embody the continuation of a Penn military tradition that predates the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, they also represent a lonely holdout among a collection of elite universities that is hostile to their presence.
The Ivy League has never been particularly friendly to the ROTC. Fueled by Vietnam-era tensions and objections to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” programs at many of Penn’s peer institutions have been evicted or disbanded. Currently, four Ivies permit an ROTC program on campus, and only two, Penn and Cornell University, continue to award any sort of academic credit for cadet participation.
This should change. After 40 years, it’s time that the ROTC return to the Ivy League — and receive the support it deserves.
Although Penn’s program comprises only about 20 students, it exerts a powerful impact on those who choose to serve. According to Navy Midshipman and Engineering senior Paul Deren, “The ROTC has taught all cadets the core values of honor, courage and commitment.” Participants receive substantial scholarship aid during their undergraduate tenure, graduating with the promise of employment in a wide variety of Navy fields and vocations. Meanwhile, the Penn administration maintains a solid working relationship with its ROTC program, lending cadets full access to its facilities and resources.
In this regard, Penn is the exception, not the rule. Harvard University’s relationship with its ROTC is especially illustrative. Their program formally expelled since 1969, Harvard cadets must drill off campus at the neighboring Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They are granted scholarship money, but accorded no academic credit or transcript recognition. It’s a harsh stance, and one that seems rooted more in past objections than present realities.
Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Brown Universities all eliminated their ROTC programs amid the civil-military antagonism that characterized the Vietnam era. My father — a Penn student during the 1960s — remembers flashing peace signs as convoys of armed troops rumbled through the streets of Philadelphia. He swam naked in the National Mall Reflecting Pool during a rally, and participated in sit-ins at College Hall. It was a time of deep uncertainty for American youth and a time when any protest could become the next Kent State.
Yet for many, that world has changed. Today, it is friends and classmates — not draftees — who commit their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The authorization of 30,000 more troops abroad has been met with minimal protest, and while Americans report disapproval of their elected representatives, hardly enough praise can be showered on the efforts of U.S. soldiers.
Meanwhile, the specter of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the expulsion of openly gay students has been the driving force behind criticism of the ROTC since the early 1990s. Penn’s own program barely escaped de-recognition during this time, with the University Council unsuccessfully lobbying for its removal. The cause for criticism continues to be strong. After all, why should private universities play host to a program that violate their own antidiscrimination practices?
But expulsion of ROTC groups from campus seems a roundabout way to combat bad congressional policy. Program coordinators and cadets have as little control over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as University administrators do. We should be challenging that policy by lobbying Washington, and not by using a generation of student-soldiers as political pawns.
Our University’s relationship with the ROTC is a perfect example, and one which more schools could do to follow. The contentious relationship between the ROTC and much of the Ivy League reflects a continuing gap in perception between the notions of “soldier” and “scholar.” These concepts needn’t always be separate — and the ROTC needn’t always be the enemy.
Emerson Brooking is a College junior from Turnerville, Ga. He is a member of the UA. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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