In 1969, Yale’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program moved off campus in response to widespread anger about a war that was deeply divisive and, at least at Yale, deeply unpopular. Today, in the midst of another controversial war, the Yale community appears ready to reopen the debate concerning its relationship with ROTC. After 36 years, the reasons for keeping ROTC off campus have changed. But we believe the virtue of doing so has not.
We admit that in an age where few Yale students think for even a moment about joining the military, the idea of restoring ROTC has a certain appeal. For the small handful of undergraduates who choose to undergo training (including the five undergraduates currently enrolled in ROTC), doing so requires long, pre-dawn drives to other universities across the state. There is no debate, then, that the return of ROTC to the Yale campus would make it much easier for students to receive military training and the scholarships that come with it. And we do not dispute the fact that, in principle, allowing undergraduates the opportunity for military training could be a good thing for Yale and for the country, regardless of campus views on the current war. Yet bringing ROTC back means reinstating a program that, due to Defense Department policy, will not admit openly gay students. For that reason, and for that reason only, the University is right to keep ROTC off its campus.
Is it worth sacrificing ROTC for the sake of just one policy? We believe — and we think history will ultimately show — that the answer is yes. Undoubtedly, the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is counterproductive, depriving the armed forces of men and women eager and able to serve their country. Yet it is also deeply unjust, elevating the basest form of bigotry into law. And so long as the federal government refuses to end “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Yale’s obligation to bar discrimination on its campus trumps the value of making it somewhat easier for students to integrate military training into their studies.
Fortunately, University President Richard Levin’s public statements as well as the University’s related stand on military recruiting at the Law School suggest that Yale will not seek to bring ROTC back so long as the Defense Department maintains its policy. But the University’s position — which is essentially to maintain the status quo — has thus far lacked either clarity or moral force. Instead, it has left Yale open to charges that its stance is simply an anti-military remnant of the Vietnam era that the University is too timid or shortsighted to change.
If a debate re-emerges over ROTC — and we welcome it — Yale should make its stance perfectly clear: The University will seek to reinstate ROTC on campus the very day that doing so will no longer require it to house a discriminatory program. The University would be right to acknowledge that America’s best and brightest should have the opportunity to pursue both an Ivy League education and military service. But that opportunity cannot come at the expense of an open and tolerant campus.