Buoyed by efforts to restore the Reserve Officer Training Corps program to several elite universities, the Yale College Republicans and other ROTC advocates are renewing their efforts to bring the training program back to the University for the first time since the 1960s.
But while a similar effort at Harvard appears to be making headway with administrators there, Yale President Richard Levin said that the University has not made any new decisions about the program. The Defense Department has not yet officially contacted Yale about bringing the program back, despite a recent report advising it to investigate restarting ROTC programs to top schools that ended them during the Vietnam War era.
“We’ve had some conversations, not directly with ROTC, but with some individuals interested in trying to facilitate that,” Levin said.
The College Republicans are planning a petition campaign to begin in two to three weeks that aims to increase student interest in a Yale ROTC program, College Republicans President Al Jiwa ’06 said.
“The idea of it is — to dispel this image that Yale is anti-military,” he said.
But Yale Law School professor Robert Burt said an ROTC program at Yale would be an inappropriate use of University resources because of the discriminatory nature of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on sexual orientation.
“Can you imagine some course in the University, like ‘Politics 301,’ saying ‘We don’t accept gay and lesbian students?’” said Burt, who is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by Law School professors against the Defense Department over recruitment for the military’s Judge Advocate General program.
A report issued in November 2003 by the Defense Business Board, which advises Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, recommended that the Department of Defense investigate restarting the ROTC programs at competitive schools including Yale, Harvard and Columbia. Low rates of participation have led the military to focus on Ivy League recruitment in the last year, said Lt. Col. Brian Baker, the commander of the Army ROTC battalion at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“There is a renewed focus on bringing in a higher-caliber officer,” Baker said. “So it’s conceivable that if you go to the schools with the best and brightest in the country, you might do that.”
Students participating in ROTC at schools without programs of their own have to travel to “crosstown” schools that offer ROTC detachments. The five Yale students enrolled in ROTC are actually members of the University of Connecticut detachments of the Army and Air Force ROTC. Harvard cadets train at MIT and Columbia cadets practice at Fordham University.
ROTC access to the Harvard campus has increased over the past five years, Baker said. The group can now recruit and post flyers on campus, he said, and Harvard pays for a bus route to take cadets to training at MIT every morning at 6:30. David Clayman, the chairman of the Advocates for Harvard ROTC, an alumni group, said Harvard President Lawrence Summers has expanded the group’s access to campus during his tenure and has spoken at the last three commissioning ceremonies for Harvard ROTC graduates.
“President Summers is with us 100 percent,” Clayman said.
Currently Yale rents a van to transport students to and from the University of Connecticut and Sacred Heart University for ROTC training, Hill said. But Burt said even this limited support is a misuse of University funds.
“I take it that if an openly gay or lesbian student applied for participation in that program and asked for University assistance that the military would say ‘We don’t want you,’” Burt said. “So the University providing money is in effect providing money on a discriminatory basis.”
Levin said the University has not made a judgement about a ROTC presence on campus, adding it is difficult to navigate the sensitive issue.
“I believe that would be a concern of many individuals in our community if ROTC were to be restored, but there may be numbers of our students who would very much like to participate in ROTC,” Levin said. “It’s a difficult question of values.”
Yale ROTC Adviser Jerry Hill said Air Force cadets commute about 70 miles to the University of Connecticut detachment in Storrs every Thursday. Army cadets at Yale commute about 23 miles to Sacred Heart University three times per week.
“I think the kids are probably at a disadvantage because of the distance,” Hill said.
Of the five Yale students currently participating in the ROTC, two are Army cadets and three are Air Force cadets. No Yale students serve as Navy cadets because there is no Navy ROTC detachment in Connecticut, Hill said.
The lack of ROTC detachments at Yale, Hill said, has prevented some interested students from participating in the program. He said several years ago, a student had to forego a Navy ROTC scholarship in order to attend Yale.
“That was extremely unfortunate,” Hill said.
Geoffrey Ellis ’07, who dropped out of the Army ROTC program after his freshman year for personal reasons, said participating in the program at Yale was difficult. He said he traveled to morning training sessions three times per week.
“That often chipped into my sleep time,” he said.
Ellis said he took a ROTC class each semester in addition to his Yale coursework, but he did not earn academic credit for the ROTC course.
“You get behind in your workload,” Ellis said. “You’re taking five classes, but you’re only getting four credits.”
Meanwhile, at Harvard, Baker is planning to ask Summers to assign on-campus office space for the school’s ROTC organization. Clayman said Baker’s plan is the equivalent to “throwing down the gauntlet” as a challenge to the university’s opposition to a military presence on campus.
At Harvard, plans are in place to increase the number of ROTC cadets from 50 to 100, Baker said. But the military has not approached Yale officials about such an increase, Hill said.
“There have been no substantive discussions with the University about it,” Hill said.