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.

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