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A Columbia University advisory board passed a resolution on Friday advancing the process of welcoming the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps back to Columbia after more than 40 years, following in the footsteps of Harvard’s recognition of ROTC last month.
But the greater transparency of Columbia’s process has raised concern among students and faculty about the way in which Harvard recognized ROTC.
The Columbia University Senate—a university-wide legislative body made up of students, faculty, and staff which informs administration policy-making—voted 51-17, with one abstention, to approve a resolution on ROTC.
The resolution paves the way for ROTC recognition at Columbia, stating: “be it further resolved that Columbia University welcomes the opportunity to explore mutually beneficial relationships with the Armed Forces of the United States, including participation in the programs of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.”
The resolution does not ensure that ROTC will be formally recognized or that the military will be invited to establish a unit on campus. Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger and other administrators would be required to negotiate the terms with the Department of Defense for a military presence to be established on campus.
Harvard was the first major University to recognize ROTC following the December repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—the military policy which banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
Since Harvard’s recognition of Naval ROTC on March 4, many have said that the University’s move will influence other institutions to follow.
Harvard Kennedy School professor David R. Gergen said at the signing ceremony that he believed that Harvard’s recognition is “likely to have a ripple effect across the nation.”
While Harvard has been praised for leading the way in welcoming the military, some students and faculty have criticized the lack of transparency and community involvement in the process in comparison to Columbia’s handling of ROTC.
According to the Columbia Spectator, the University Senate created a Task Force on Military Engagement and hosted meetings and town halls, inviting students and faculty to debate the issue.
Prior to the Columbia Senate’s decision, neuroscience professor John E. Dowling ’57 expressed concern in March that Harvard’s decision to recognize ROTC was made without any faculty-wide discussion. He said at the time that he hopes that the administration will consult the Faculty in the case that military classes are introduced into the curriculum.
“Maybe the president feels she doesn’t need to discuss this with the Faculty,” he said.
Harvard trans and intersex rights activists said that, while they do not agree with the Columbia Senate’s decision, they appreciate Columbia’s approach, adding that a similar process at Harvard would have allowed them greater opportunity to voice their worry that the military violates Harvard’s non-discrimination policy.
“I appreciate the Columbia process much more,” said Trans Task Force leader Jia Hui Lee ’12. “It gave a lot more space for discussion and it allowed people to raise their concerns about this issue.”
Citing the military’s exclusion of trans and intersex individuals from service, a contingent of students and faculty members have criticized the University’s recognition of ROTC, claiming that it violates Harvard’s non-discrimination policy.
Queer Students and Allies Co-Chair Marco Chan ’11 said he is “deeply concerned” about the lack of student and faculty participation in the University’s decision to recognize ROTC.
“Anyone who’s concerned about transparency or democratic decision making should be concerned about the way Harvard made its decision on this issue,” Chan said.
Lee added that Yale has also initiated a more transparent process, forming a faculty committee last Monday to assess the return of ROTC.
But Michael M. Segal ’76, a member of the Advocates for Harvard ROTC, wrote in an email that Columbia needs broad faculty and student support because Columbia may be compelled to establish an on-campus NROTC unit. Unlike Harvard, where students can participate in NROTC at nearby MIT, NROTC is not available elsewhere in Manhattan.
Segal added that “Columbia had the more radical reputation from 1969, and that a formal vote was important to overcome this.”
—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at tmerrigan@ college.harvard.edu. —Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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