Forty years after ROTC's eviction, attitudes soften on campus
By Talia Kagan
April 29, 2010
At Brown today, bared navels are a more common sight then naval
officers but that wasn't always the case.
Brown was once home to a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, but 40
years ago the faculty voted to expel the program from College Hill.
Now, some students want to bring it back, though they're facing opposition.
In 1969, amid fierce dissatisfaction with American involvement in
Vietnam, the Faculty Executive Committee voted to phase out ROTC, a
military program that commissions students as officers in the U.S.
military and trains them during their university years.
By 1972, the Brown ROTC program once headquartered just off the
Main Green in Lyman Hall was abolished. Brown students interested
in ROTC can currently join the Providence College battalion, but in
recent years, only a handful have done so.
Last week, Students For ROTC held its first two public events, a
dinner hosting Brown ROTC alums and a panel discussion with military
officers. The group, founded last spring by Keith Dellagrotta '10,
has circulated a petition, which currently has 200 signatures,
calling for ROTC support. The group itself only has about six active
members, he said.
This is not the first time that there has been talk of bringing ROTC
back to College Hill since its expulsion. Over the years, there have
been student groups, including one that was active in 2007, letters
to the editor printed in The Herald and reconsideration by a
But what makes now different? Why might a campus that once held
rallies and sit-ins protesting the military now consider a growing
relationship with ROTC?
The return of ROTC to Brown is unlikely at this point according to
retired U.S. Army LTC Paul Dulchinos, it may not currently make sense
for the military to invest money and personnel when the PC battalion
is so close and there is so little student demand.
But certain factors, including the possible future reformation of
"Don't Ask Don't Tell" and a shift in attitude, point to the changed
nature of a debate over ROTC at Brown.
For one, Brown is not alone. Groups at Harvard and Columbia have also
been working to re-establish support for the program. A recent Boston
Globe article described this as the "thawing" of elite university
administrators' opposition to ROTC.
Bringing ROTC back to Brown's campus "hasn't been part of the
conversation so far," said Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron.
But, she said, "I think it would be fruitful for us to look into ways
of recognizing in some fashion the work that students do in the ROTC
program (at PC)." The form that such recognition would take hasn't
been decided yet, but more convenient transportation to PC and the
possibility for academic credit for ROTC courses are two
considerations, according to Bergeron.
Support for students in ROTC isn't new, she said. The University has
a dean who oversees ROTC cadets and maintains a Web site with the
program information. Top administrators, including President Ruth
Simmons, were in attendance at last year's commissioning ceremony, a
visible sign of University support.
Bergeron said she did see a shift in attitudes toward the military,
and particularly noted the increased attendance at this year's
Veteran's Day ceremonies. This shift might affect contemporary campus
views on the ROTC program, she said.
"This isn't 1969," she added.
It's true. This isn't 1969. Popular criticism of today's military
often seizes upon the current "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, which
prohibits openly gay people from serving in the military a debate
that hadn't even begun before ROTC left campus.
In 1969, when ROTC protests had reached their fever pitch, the
military draft was looming for male students.
In the official 1969 vote calling for the phase-out, the faculty
cited problems with awarding academic course credit for arguably less
rigorous ROTC classes and granting faculty status to military
officers. Though that was true "a really good supplementary
argument" the major thrust to expel the military presence from
College Hill instead grew out of students' and faculty's increased
dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War, according to Professor Emeritus
of History and Slavic Studies Abbott Gleason, who began teaching at
Brown one year earlier.
"That was a repudiation of American foreign policy," he said.
The phase-out left open the possibility for ROTC to return, provided
that seven conditions including, for example, that ROTC courses
"not carry credit" at Brown and that the awarding of degrees not be
based on ROTC participation were met. Following further
negotiations with the military, these conditions proved incompatible
with U.S. military regulations and the program was fully abolished.
After 55 years of ROTC at Brown, 1972 was the last.
Travelin' down the hill
In the late 1980s, around 15 Brown students participated in the PC ROTC unit.
Today, there is just one: Joy Joung '11.
The number of Brown participants in ROTC has been relatively low for
several years, according to Dulchinos, who served as professor of
military science for the PC ROTC Battalion from 2005 to 2008. But
just one cadet is a particularly low presence, he said.
Joung drives her roommate's car to PC for her 6:30 a.m. physical
training session five days a week, and on Wednesdays she returns for
an afternoon of military labs and classes. On these class days, she
wears her uniform, which can provoke unusually long stares, she said.
Students sometimes ask "what is this?" or "are you in a play?" she
said, adding that the most common response to her cadet status is
The most common criticism of the military that she hears is from
students opposing the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, she said. But as
some military officers at the panel pointed out, that policy was
decided by civilian politicians, not the military, she said.
Joung, an ROTC scholarship recipient, is required to fulfill eight
years of duty, four of them active. She hopes to work in military
intelligence, using her knowledge of Russian and Korean, though she
won't know her future military career path until she takes an
evaluation exam next summer. But this exam won't determine everything
40 percent of a cadet's final evaluation score is determined by
their college grade point average, she said.
"They stress school," Joung said, adding that she was surprised with
how flexible the program was to accommodate both her academic
schedule and her varsity hockey commitment. But it is still a
difficult balance, she said, adding that greater institutional
support in the form of transportation or course credit might convince
more people to consider ROTC.
"You're a college student first and a cadet second," she said.
That may be, but several speakers at last week's dinner said they
found their ROTC participation to be a defining experience at Brown.
Alums and military officers spoke glowingly of the leadership and
personal experience they gained, calling their units a "second home"
or their "family."
Beyond the military's positive effects on Brown students, the
officers and veterans made another case for ROTC the positive
effect of Brown students on the military.
"Restoration of ROTC may actually liberalize the narrow view that
characterizes (the military)," said Clarke Ryder '61 at the dinner.
Officers at the panel were also quick to remind the audience of the
military's need for top-tier students. During his time as a professor
of military science for the PC battalion, U.S. Army LTC Steven
McGonagle commissioned about 100 cadets, but only two ever made it to
the elite Ranger regiment and both were Brown students, he said.
One of those two students, Scott Quigley '05, joined the ROTC program
after the September 11 attacks because it "was the most practical
option to contribute and prepare for serving in a military and for a
nation at war," he wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. His Brown
education made him a "more well-rounded and competent officer," he wrote.
At the dinner, NROTC alum Jack Nixon '64 spoke heatedly about the
experience he gained from the military, calling it the "most
important" work experience of his life.
"At least I had a choice," he said.
Alums and officers also said their ROTC scholarship gave them the
freedom to attend a college they couldn't otherwise afford.
Or closing doors?
But "it is not a debt-free education," according to naval veteran
Sean Dinces GS, who said the cost is your military service. "You do
have to repay them. And that's not choice."
Dinces graduated from a naval academy in 2004, and served four years
as a naval officer before being discharged in 2008. During his time
in the military, Dinces was disturbed by the "xenophobic, homophobic
and sexist" military culture that he encountered, he said.
After his discharge, Dinces began working for a volunteer
organization as a counselor for military personnel seeking to leave
the military, including conscientious objectors and people like him
who are disturbed by the discriminatory realities of military culture, he said.
These realities are a large part of why Dinces believes ROTC should
not return to the Brown campus. He also does not agree that the
military culture is likely to be changed from within, and noted
personal counseling experience with individuals who found themselves
unable to reconcile personal philosophy with the military institution.
Other students opposed to the program worry about the influence and
control the military might exercise over Brown itself if it has the
power to award credit. Is that something the University might fear
from a growing relationship with the military?
"No," Bergeron said.
There is no organized group opposing the Brown support for ROTC, but
at the panel last week, one graduate student circulated a flier
making the argument against ROTC on campus. And those opposed say
they will mobilize against University movement to bring the program back.
Some consider what Brown support of ROTC might signify beyond College Hill.
"To invite ROTC back now would be to make a political statement for
continued military presence" in the Middle East, said Professor Gleason.
On the other hand, the prominence of Brown ROTC alums in the military
ranks would bring greater recognition of University excellence,
military officers said.
And the reality is that a handful of Brown students are joining these
ranks even now without much University support for the PC program.
Four of the six active members of Students for ROTC are graduating
this year. Dellagrotta will be going to medical school on a health
professional scholarship from the airforce. After medical school and
residency, he will serve four years of active duty. He said he hopes
his student group continues to work to bring ROTC back to Brown after
he leaves, and believes that other students feel the same way he does.
In fact, it was the student support for ROTC demonstrated by last
semester's Herald poll that provided motivation to plan the two
events, he said. The poll found that 41.3 percent of students said
they would support the reinstatement of ROTC, 24.9 percent said
they'd oppose it and 33.8 percent said they didn't know.
This might be an indication of the campus's changing attitude towards
the military. But in the end, it is not always the plurality opinion
that effects change.
In fact, when the Curriculum Committee initially examined the
question of ROTC at Brown, the majority favored it remain on campus
in a modified form. It was the student who wrote the minority opinion
that called for its complete removal who ultimately won out.
That student was Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98. "He was a
radical," said Gleason.
At that time, "campus dynamics were highly charged" in a way students
today would have a hard time understanding, Kertzer said.
Along with the times, Kertzer has shifted his views. Today, he is
more receptive to consideration of University support for ROTC. But
he would still require the University retain control over military
faculty hiring and ensure academic intellectual freedom for students
in the military science program if it were brought back on campus, he said.
Still, "the argument that the university should facilitate students
who are interested in participating in a ROTC program is a pretty
strong argument," he said.
What would his former self say?
"I don't think my 22 year-old self would be that happy," he said.