It’s time to bring the Reserve Officer Training Corps back to Columbia. While we oppose many of the military’s policies, particularly its “don’t ask, don’t tell” program, we recognize the valuable ideological and socioeconomic diversity that a military presence would bring to campus.
Today’s military comprises a disproportionate number of working-class and minority Americans. Just two years ago, our representative in Congress, Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), brought this issue to the forefront of every young person’s mind by proposing to reinstate the draft so that “if there were a war, there would be a more equitable representation of people making sacrifices.” Most students, terrified of the prospect of going to war, disagreed with Rangel’s bill, but many lauded him for pointing out how unfair it was for the American elite to expect poor people to fight wars for them. Those who did so cannot now do an about-face and say that the military can’t recruit or train soldiers amongst the privileged here at Columbia.
For many impoverished Americans, military service is the only means to college. Now that the Bush administration has proposed to cut federal financial aid programs, the ROTC will play an even more important role in providing access to higher education. We vehemently oppose any cuts to federal financial aid, and we support the creation of a national tuition endowment to give students more options. But worthy measures like the latter option currently suffer the detriment of not existing. For now, everyone who wishes to shut ROTC out of Columbia must acknowledge that they are also blocking a road by which hundreds of underrepresented students could enroll in our school.
In no way do we endorse the military’s discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Although technically the result of congressional action, military officials’ protesting its existence would quickly kill the program. One of the best means, therefore, by which Americans may end military homophobia is by eliminating ignorance at the highest levels of the military. ROTC students are at an advantage to do this, as most go directly into the officer corps, and many advance to the military’s highest ranks from there. We know that a soldier educated at Columbia would be equipped with the intellectual tools necessary to expose the fallacy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” to all of his colleagues.
As we hope the military would change our campus, so would we hope to change the military. In the mean time, however, it is unfair to deprive qualified students of a Columbia education because their primary means of financial aid comes from an organization with which we disagree.