For the first time in over 43 years, representatives of the Navy came to campus on Tuesday to meet with undergraduates interested in joining a Columbia Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, which was restored last semester following an absence that dates back to the Vietnam War.
Last week, Interim Provost John Coatsworth said in an email to undergraduates that he was “pleased to announce that the program at SUNY Maritime is ready to accept Columbia undergraduate students from the College, SEAS and General Studies as early as the upcoming 2012 spring term.”
Jose Robledo, a University Senator and military veteran, said that the Navy’s information session on Tuesday showed that “the University is keeping its promises to bridge its divide with the military.”
“It’s the first time that the University community has had the opportunity to talk to SUNY Maritime and see what they have to offer the community,” Robledo said. “That’s amazing.”
Last spring, University President Lee Bollinger signed an agreement with the Secretary of the Navy that would allow students to participate in the NROTC program at SUNY Maritime in the Bronx.
The agreement came after the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which barred openly gay people from serving in the military, and a semester of heated debate on campus.
Although only a handful of students stopped by the information session to speak with Naval representatives, Ryan Cho, CC ’13 and an Army ROTC cadet at Fordham, said that the information session “was much more publicized than usual.”
Robledo said that upcoming finals could have prevented some students from attending.
“This is the last week of classes,” he said. “How many people are going to take the time out of their day to go to an information session?”
Cho noted that while the School of General Studies has a flourishing relationship with veterans, Columbia could still improve its relationship with the military.
“Columbia will always have the opportunity to produce officers in the military,” he said. “We’ve always welcomed veterans with open arms and will be fostering relations even further to allow NROTC to recruit on our campus.”
Barry Weinberg, CC ’12 and co-president of Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, said he thought the information session was a minor event and should not have warranted an email to students from the provost.
“What is unfortunate is that it awards credits that not all students are eligible to earn,” Weinberg said, in reference to the fact that transgender students face are still barred from serving in the military. “They shouldn’t award academic credit, which is under the discretion of the faculty.”
The provost’s office has formed an advisory committee to help discuss how to keep the NROTC program consistent with Columbia’s academic standards and nondiscrimination policy.
Captain Matt Loughlin, one of the Naval representatives who hosted the information session for students, said he hoped that the program would raise interest among Columbia students.
“I think that the program is sure to grow with students who are interested in joining the military, especially now that Columbia will be an option for their education,” Loughlin said. “We’ve already had some students accepted for next year.”
Although the turnout was limited, Loughlin remained positive about the future of the program.
“If we get one great candidate, we call that a successful day,” he said.