The Muslim Students Association and the Coalition for a Military Free Campus hosted a town hall Tuesday night to discuss the ROTC’s potential return to Columbia, which the University Senate will begin to debate on Friday.
No one in attendance voiced support for a return of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which has not been present at Columbia for more than 40 years. And although members of the coalition stated that they had heavily advertised the event, attendees were mostly coalition members, along with a handful of other students.
Those at the town hall, which was held at the Intercultural Resource House, blamed the low attendance on apathy following the closure of the ROTC survey that the University senate sent to five schools last month.
“It was very strategic how they had this survey. It gives a sense of closure to the student body, and it is increasingly hard after the survey to get people to care,” Daniela Garcia, CC ’11, said. “We are forced to organize these events to disseminate information to the public.”
Throughout the meeting, members stressed that the senate’s Task Force on Military Engagement, which sent out the poll and hosted a series of town hall events on ROTC, has not been transparent.
“Discussion was not fostered and people summarized opinion,” Jessie Stoolman, BC ’14, said. “We could ask [the] task force questions, but they didn’t have to answer us. You could email questions, but I am not aware of anyone getting a response.”
Attendees also said the task force was never objective in its handling of its discussion on ROTC, noting that astronomy professor and task force member Jim Applegate has been a vocal ROTC proponent, writing pro-ROTC op-eds in campus publications.
The task force compiled a 228-page report summarizing campus opinions of ROTC, but never made an endorsement. The University Senate will discuss a resolution supporting ROTC on Friday, with a vote likely taking place at its April 29 meeting.
Other coalition members discussed Columbia College Dean Michele Moody-Adams’ opening remarks at the second senate-sponsored town hall, which many interpreted as expressing support for ROTC.
“It hindered a safe space of people expressing opinion,” Stoolman said. “I felt extremely awkward and could not grasp the situation, that the administrator who came before me would be endorsing ROTC at the beginning. This task force was meant to be a neutral body and just inform us and give us safe spaces to talk in. Yet, the people forming a safe space obviously had an agenda.”
Moody-Adams has maintained that she did not take a position in her remarks.
Coalition members said that they have had to work hard to inform students about ROTC—by setting up tables on College Walk, for example—in the absence of other sources of information.
“It’s absurd that students have to disseminate information on ROTC,” Zoe Willmott, BC ’12, said.
They also criticized the task force for not including the entire Columbia population in its survey, which was sent to students in Columbia College, the School for Engineering and Applied Science, Barnard College, the School of General Studies, and the School of International and Public Affairs.
“Conversation is not taking place on other campuses in any shape or form and we can’t even vote,” said Iesha Wadala, a second year graduate student at the Mailman School of Public Health.
Senate task force members have said that the poll was only sent to five schools because the entire University population is so large that Columbia’s computing department was unable to create a poll that would reach all of it. The task force chose to send the poll to the five schools that have had off-campus ROTC cadets in the past five years.
“The whole process has been really rushed in that way,” Willmott said. “Listen to our concerns and postpone it for another year.”
“I think it is very alienating,” Camilla Daniels, BC ’13, said. “If it [a vote] does get pushed in the next couple of weeks, it would destruct any type of community I feel in Columbia.”