Fisher: Student first, soldier second

School of Fisher

Since the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, the general consensus around Yale seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of reinstating ROTC, which has been banned from the campus since 1969. But the program wasn’t banned because of the military’s treatment of gay soldiers. Regardless of recent policy changes, the university should not hastily embrace the military program.

ROTC gives students an opportunity to go to college — for free — while training to become military officers. Supporters say this is the perfect opportunity for Yale students to prepare to lead and defend their country. And Yale purports to be in the business of making leaders. To ban ROTC, they say, is unpatriotic and elitist. We oughtn’t throw out the middle section of “for God, for country, and for Yale.”

If Yale students want to become military officers upon graduation, that’s great. But it’s not the University’s place to actively promote that goal. The military, like the civil service, the arts or consulting, is a career choice. It’s one that requires a great deal of training, but that’s true of most careers. Yale is not a pre-professional school. After all, Yale recently eliminated its Teacher Prep program. And when it comes to ROTC, the administration should think carefully before committing extra resources to promoting the career goals of a small segment of the student body.

Both teachers and military officers are to be admired, and, surely, Yale can and should produce both. But Yale’s purpose is education at its purest, not trade schooling.

ROTC programs vary; universities can give university credit for ROTC classes, provide facilities for training, host cadets-in-training that are fully engaged in the school community, or any combination of the above. But if ROTC returns to Yale, the participants must be Yalies first and soldiers second. Yale’s strength is in the shared connections and passions of its students. A program that explicitly separates part of the student body — whether by location of housing, attire or available classes — would be an assault to the integrity of the community.

Even if ROTC were to be a merely supplemental activity whose participants were students above all else, the program would still pose problems. ROTC is not an extracurricular activity like any other. A capella groups’ members may wear special T-shirts during rush or live in off-campus houses, but ROTC reaches into the classroom.

ROTC also imposes an ideology that may not be compatible with the fundamental values of a university. No normal extracurricular group does that. The military is based on a rigorous code of behavior. In an army, the broad freedom to question, investigate and experiment is a threat to cohesion and productivity; in a university, these freedoms are the core of success.

College students who fully embrace scholarship must constantly push boundaries. To some extent, they should strive to undermine authority, to see how far they can go unchecked, to venture past any barriers they might meet.

Those values would erode the structure of the military. Imagine a cadet who constantly questioned his superiors, demanded reasons, or sought the most beautiful solution when a quicker one would suffice. He would be a lousy soldier. Creativity matters to military officers, but that creativity is entrenched in a collective spirit. The military values a precision and perfection that may be undesirable for the ideal college student.

The military may very well be an important and noble element of society. Yale students should perhaps consider dedicating themselves to protecting their country after graduation. But if they are truly to be Yale students, they cannot be soldiers at the same time. They should be smart enough to learn the values of both the academy and the military and to understand that each has its own place. Do one, then the other — the order doesn’t matter.

But during college, the exploratory spirit of scholarship must extend to every facet of life. Yale’s is a residential campus for a reason. We are students not just in class, but in every moment of our lives in New Haven. This university is a haven where we should approach everything we encounter with a freewheeling curiosity and a hunger to try new things.

Both this attitude and that of the military can help Americans reach new heights and realize their potential in new ways. Each presents a different, but valuable approach to the world. In the military, the individual is subjugated to the group; as a cog in a great whole, men can transcend individual limitations. In the academy, the creative individual can strive to know himself and his world, to critically consider the mainstream and the past, to grapple with the highest peaks of intellect and art.

But military and academic values do not jibe, and each demands a total commitment. To reintroduce ROTC to Yale — to attempt to unite the military and the academy in a single time, space and purpose — would tarnish both of these noble pursuits.

Julia Fisher is a sophomore in Berkeley College.


  • JackJ

    Before you condemn ROTC and military education so roundly I suggest you learn something about the following:
    Naval Postgraduate School
    The Air Force Institute of Technology
    The Army Command and General Staff College
    The Naval War College
    The Air War College
    The National War College
    The Industrial College of the Armed Forces
    The Joint Services War College
    West Point
    The Air Force Academy
    All the above are degree granting institutions authorized by the same certification authorities that allow Yale to bestow degrees. They cover all the subjects at Yale plus some the university doesn’t have. They have every bit as much academic rigor as Yale and some of them do considerably more research into arcane topics than even Yale.

    Also consider military Participation in the JFK School, The Wilson School, Wharton, The Flechter School and hundreds of other educational programs at top flight colleges. Are you aware for example that some of the top generals and admirals hold PhD’s from “prestigious” institutions like Harvard and Princeton?

    You should really study the ROTC curricula for you seem not to understand what being a member of an ROTC unit is about. If you intend to discourage ROTC participation at Yale then you’ll need to restrict entrance to any members of the Reserve units of the military including those attending on GI Bill entitlements for they also are members of the military at the same time they’re Yale students. Your argument also neglects to address the fact that current Yale students are already members of ROTC units at New Haven and Connecticut thus proving your thesis incorrect about success following only a commitment to “the Academy.”

    Once you’ve done your homework let’s see if you still believe academic values are missing from the profession of arms and its educational efforts, ROTC being one of the entry points into that profession.

  • wtf

    If you don’t want to join ROTC then don’t ____ing do it. Duh.

  • gzuckier

    Well, the nominal reason for ROTC’s ban was academic; it is in fact required that “the senior commissioned officer of the armed force concerned who is assigned to the program at that institution is given the academic rank of professor… and the institution adopts, as a part of its curriculum, a four-year course of military instruction … which the Secretary of the military department concerned prescribes and conducts”, according to the ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964
    That might be in violation of Yale’s philosophy more than any specific moral or ethical leanings.

  • 201Y1

    “The military may very well be an important and noble element of society.” Oh, that sounds really genuine. All of this is just a thinly veiled way of saying you don’t like the military. If you think ROTC contradicts Yale values, you’re due for some introspection and a history lesson. Grow up.

  • PC2005


    There are a number of items to take issue with here, beyond the generally patronizing tone of the column. The first – and most obvious one – is the title, which suggests that ROTC students would somehow be servicemembers (please note that the term “soldier” is not generic) first, and students second. This is nonsense, and you don’t demonstrate how the cadets’ loyalties or priorities would be adversely impacted more than participation in athletics, music, or any other program the University offers.

    You write that sponsoring a ROTC unit would be an “assault to the integrity of the community” – strong language, to be sure – but again don’t demonstrate how this would be the case. The football facilities are not available to students not members of the football team; is this an “assault”? No one has suggested putting ROTC cadets in housing separated from the colleges, yet you invent this as a reason to object to the program. The program need only subscribe to the same conditions of availability that all other extracurriculars do- nondescrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., which the program in fact does.

    Finally, you give the paranoid assertion that ROTC “imposes an ideology that may not be compatible with the fundamental values of a university.” (It is clear that you don’t believe that this is only a possibility.) This is downright ignorant and contemptuous. Military officers, and those training for service, are perfectly capable of independent thought and criticism, and ROTC was in fact established by General Officers who wanted _more_ officers who were capable of “questioning, investigating, and experimenting.” An officer who (respectfully) questions his superiors, demands that his orders be justified, and seeks elegant solutions would be an excellent officer, not a threat. You would be very surprised indeed to see how valuable these abilities are in the officer corps.

    The gap of understanding between the civilian world and the military is vast, to the detriment of both communities, and your article is a perfect example of this. Did you, in fact, speak with any of the ROTC cadets currently at Yale now? They deserve more than the ignorant contempt that you offer them here.


    An Alumnus
    (Written from a USN vessel)

  • Madas

    I have family members in the military, and, from the stories I hear, I think Julia is correct. The military does emphasize conformity and coherence above all else. Even in the classroom (And I’m speaking from the experience conveyed to me from stories of classes at a military college), the right to question is limited more so than in other environments. The military cheerleaders here need to back off. There’s nothing wrong with the military. I’m as conservative as they come, and I wholeheartedly support the armed forces. That doesn’t mean they can’t be criticized when such criticism is justified. I think Julia’s criticism was well-argued and supported.

    @PC2005: If you found this contemptuous, I take it you don’t read these columns regularly…

  • PC2005

    @Madas: First, I think I win the argument from authority. Secondly, I wholeheartedly agree with the criticism that the military institutionally overvalues conformity and coherence, sometimes by necessity but frequently not. However, the specific intent of ROTC was to bring in officers who were trained at more liberal institutions and so not bound by these vices; in trying to keep students from Yale and similar institutions from the services (and yes, prohibiting ROTC at Yale does indeed do that), Ms. Fisher and those likeminded unwittingly reinforce these institutional problems.

  • Lagavulin92

    I too believe that Julia’s points are valid. While Yale officers certainly introduce liberal ideas, they are still bound to receive orders they cannot agree with (unless they rise enourmously in the hierarchy of the mil. forces). One major motivation for Harvard to reintroduce the ROTC was the science projects from the military. This is something we need to keep in mind. Does Yale gain the same advantages for adopting the program again? If not, a possible deal must be thought over thoroughly.

  • Segal

    The notion that the university’s attitude towards questioning authority is different from the attitude in the military is true, but the idea that they can’t be integrated is a surrender to the civil-military gap, not an act of leadership to transcend it. Given that Yalies have a proud history in bucking authority to start elements of the military such as the air force (detailed at, it is less than inspiring to see such a defeatist attitude.

    The notion that civilian leaders think one way and military leaders think another way and one can’t integrate this approaches is one fraught with danger. Those who have transcended this divide have been crucial leaders at pivotal points. As detailed at General David Petraeus, by virtue of his Ivy experience, was able to transcend the difficulties others had dealing with fellow Princeton alumnus Donald Rumsfeld, and as a result Petraeus was promoted to a position in which he could turn the tide in Iraq. Furthermore, Petraeus has spoken many times (e.g. about how one integrates the flat framework typical of universities with the need for following orders in the military.

    We need more people like Petraeus who can transcend the civil-military gap, not fewer.

    And on the requirements of the ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964, quoted by gzukier, there is no requirement for course credit for ROTC courses (detailed at and there are sensible solutions for the faculty appointment issue (detailed at