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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Homeland Security

Claudia Cowan

San Francisco, CA

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ROTC May Return to Stanford

April 5, 2010 - 10:54 AM | by: Claudia Cowan

Being a student at an elite university like Stanford is challenging enough. But imagine the difficulty for undergrads who’ve chosen to serve our country after they graduate.

Because Stanford doesn’t offer Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, ROTC, they must drive to other Bay Area schools to participate, such as San Jose State and the University of California at Berkeley. For some cadets, that means a half hour commute, and missing out on coveted spots in officer training courses.

As one cadet put it, “we’re doing what soldiers always do– improvise, adjust and overcome.”

For nearly 40 years, ROTC has not been welcome at The Farm. Stanford kicked ROTC off-campus in 1973 following anti-war protests that included the torching of a Navy ROTC building. Students and faculty didn’t like the idea of teaching the art of war on campus, and had issues with the academic standards, as well.

But now there’s a growing effort to bring the 200-year old military leadership training program back, spearheaded by former Defense Secretary William Perry, and Pultizer Prize winning historian David Kennedy– both Stanford professors.

In their view, reinstating ROTC goes to the heart of Stanford’s mission statement as an institution of higher education. Kennedy argues the nation’s universities should expose students to every reasonable option for their future.

“Institutions like Stanford, that enjoy tax-exempt status, and are the objects of all kinds of philanthropy, have an obligation to train leaders for institutions of importance in the Armed Forces. There’s something wrong with the picture where a privileged, I daresay elitist, institution like this one doesn’t make room for training people for that walk of life,” Kennedy said.

But opposition remains. Sociology Professor Cecilia Ridgeway, who voted against reviewing this policy, and refused to speak to Fox News, says universities should not encourage “military approaches” to problem solving.

In nearby Palo Alto, anti-war activist Paul George says Stanford is no place for such military training.

“We appreciate what the military does for us,” says George. “But this attitude of glorifying war, and just accepting war, is exacerbated by programs like the ROTC that come into an academic community as if it’s a natural part of it. And I have a problem with that.”

Many cadets, like Akhil Iyer, a junior at Stanford and future Marine, ask why Stanford shouldn’t welcome ROTC students in this global security landscape.

“We’re going to have people going into policy, we may have a President from one of my classes.  For them to get some sort of exposure to ROTC is important, because they’re going to influence the policies of the military, and of the Armed Forces.”

Any change in policy won’t happen in time to help out Akhil and his dozen or so fellow cadets. The return of ROTC to Stanford is also contingent on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and there’s no telling when that may happen. But this school is not alone in rethinking Vietnam-era anti-ROTC policies.  Harvard, Columbia and other universities are also considering reinstating the program.

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