The News’ View of Dec. 3, 2001, rightfully called for the reinstitution of ROTC at Yale (“University should reinstate ROTC,” 12/3). The editors of the News accurately noted the need for intelligent Yale students to serve in the military because of Yale’s responsibility to produce national leaders.
An examination of the history of the ROTC programs reveals that the program was not discontinued simply because of the activism of the Vietnam era, as the News’ View argued. Responsibility rests primarily upon the faculty who, in their role as policy makers, relegated ROTC to the extracurricular realm in 1969.
As the Yale Alumni Magazine reported in March of that year, faculty members viewed military training as a form of “vocational training, not liberal education.” Citing the lack of programs in business and education at the time, the faculty voted to disallow ROTC students from receiving academic credit for their work, making the program equivalent to heeling the Yale Daily News or singing with the Whiffenpoofs.
Surrounding this decision was a powerful elitist streak among Yale professors. Military methods in disciplining and conducting classes did not seem to encourage students to ask enough questions, one professor argued. The presence of a large number of non-Yale undergraduates in the program caused another to state, “I can’t imagine, given the high proportion of students from local colleges, that work in these classes meets typical Yale standards.”
Most striking, Yale professors objected to the military faculty using the title “professor,” which they felt should only be used by tenured members of the University.
It is ironic that, at a time when students and faculty members were protesting the elitism of Yale, the faculty should defend their decision on such elitist grounds.
The tone of the late 1960s’ faculty provides a stark contrast to that of the faculty in the fall of 1916 when military training was introduced to the College. Led by the Course of Study Committee and its chairman, professor Chauncey Brewster Tinker, the body noted that:
“The Committee wishes, at the outset, to make clear to the Faculty that the question offered to it was not whether military science and drill form a desirable addition to the College curriculum, but, the introduction of such work being assumed, [how to implement it].”
There was no question as to whether military personnel should recruit and train at Yale.
The early ROTC program rested upon President Arthur Twining Hadley’s call for preparedness and a sense that Yale would successfully train America’s military leaders. A 1917 publication called “Yale and the Guns” reflected that:
“No other university allows as much to its students in military equipment and training, and in no other university are the under-graduates showing finer loyalty. Yale is preparing her men for the ordeal by battle, and her men will win it.”
The question of whether such training was too vocational came up. Students would still be required to study English, ancient and modern languages and literature, mathematics, government, international relations, and the social and natural sciences.
As a 1942 publication on Yale’s war program noted, students would find courses such as economics and international relations of particular interest as they provided background for more advanced military study. A balance between courses taught by the Department of Defense and the traditional courses taught by Yale faculty was achieved.
Motivated by the egoism of professors and the radicalism of the 1960s, the Yale community rapidly rejected the presence of ROTC. Indeed, shortly ROTC lost academic status, and the Navy left Yale in 1970. Although President Kingman Brewster stated that he did not feel that ROTC would need to leave, the welcome mat had clearly been withdrawn.
With the United States engaged in war, we now see a revived sense of the suitability and importance of on-campus ROTC. Currently students who wish to train in the officer corps must travel away from Yale, limiting their engagement with the campus. Their coursework, which focuses on everything from leadership skills to military history and arms use, is akin to another set of classes at another university.
As the Dean’s Steering Committee examines the state of undergraduate education and as the faculty attempts to direct the College during our current war, ROTC must be re-examined and viewed not as an intellectually moribund program, but as a vital training ground for leaders.
If Yale truly wishes to serve both society and the nation, a program that unites the government and the College should have a place on campus.
Justin Zaremby is a junior in Calhoun College. His columns appear on alternate Tuesdays.