As the official voice of the Spectator, the Editorial Board offers its opinions on issues relevant to Columbia.
As Columbia students, we tend to extend our philosophical outlook to all issues on campus. Simple chats wind up being rants about imperialism, Valentine’s Day an argument over gender identity, and Manhattanville a case study of gentrification.
Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that ideology has rested at the heart of the debate over Columbia’s relationship with the military. But this is one discussion that should not be rooted only in intellectual justification.
The strictly ideological approach to the return of ROTC has proven unproductive and short sighted. By framing the debate over ROTC’s return to Columbia in rigidly philosophical terms, we overlook more important arguments. In addition to an analysis based on ethical maxims, a realistic evaluation of the costs and benefits of military involvement proves that ROTC should be invited back to Columbia.
Whether or not they choose to enroll in ROTC, Columbia students stand to benefit from its return. Just as a need-blind financial aid policy has opened Columbia up to many students, ROTC would make Columbia accessible to an underrepresented part of America’s population. Many students who join ROTC are prompted by financial concerns, indicating that ROTC could increase economic diversity on campus—a major criticism leveled against Columbia that has proven difficult to combat. Students who seek ROTC membership would also increase the diversity of outlook and experience in a sometimes homogeneous student body.
We agree with our ideologically unyielding peers who point out that the military has flawed policies. Women experience unacceptably high levels of sexual violence and abuse, and the repeal of DADT will not end discrimination against transgender individuals. We strongly oppose these remnants of military discrimination—but propose a different way of dealing with them.
Student groups who oppose the return of ROTC have taken an approach of passive resistance through non-participation in military programs. But is this the most effective way to agitate for change? Instead, by engaging the military through ROTC programs, open-minded Columbia students could reform the system from within. If we remain isolated from the military, we will have no influence over their policies. Engagement—not self-imposed segregation—is the way to reform. The military is not a company that we can boycott or a country from which we can divest—it is a vital part of our nation’s identity that cannot be ignored.
This type of uncompromising opposition also breeds misinformation. Few students know—because non-engagement makes this information nonessential—that ROTC has never been banned at Columbia. Instead, the administration pursued a de facto ban, putting limits on military participation that made operating a program here impossible. These facts, among many others, are critical for students who are voting in the online poll to know.
Our hope is that engagement with the military will create a more open, tolerant military culture that will mobilize to reverse remaining discriminatory policies. We assume that Columbia students, due to their open-mindedness and tolerance towards people with different views and lifestyles, will acquire leadership positions in the military that will allow them to implement such changes. These reforms won’t be immediate, but ROTC is the best chance we have to make the military an institution more in accordance with our principles of equality. Our academic experience at Columbia that instills us with values of honesty, justice, mercy, and truth can be practically applied in military service.
To deny students who seek ROTC membership the chance to pursue military service, regardless of their reasons, is itself ideologically flawed.
So Columbia students, we urge you to peek your heads out of our ivory tower and consider what ROTC has to offer. Vote yes to ROTC.