“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is history, and at Yale that means the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) might be the future.
After President Barack Obama signed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” — the military’s policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly — on Dec. 22, University administrators began working to reintroduce ROTC, which was banned from campus during the Vietnam War. In recent years, the University has cited “don’t ask, don’t tell” as its main objection to the program. Even if Yale decides it wants ROTC back, though, budget cuts in the Pentagon may be a hurdle to establishing a new unit.
“I’m very hopeful that we can work out arrangements with the military that are satisfactory to our community and we’ll be able to bring ROTC back to campus,” University President Richard Levin said in a Sunday interview.
Levin spoke with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week to express interest in the military setting up a new ROTC unit at Yale. Yale College Dean Mary Miller said Levin has since had a “positive” follow-up conversation with a senior military official.
At Levin’s request, General Counsel Dorothy Robinson, University Secretary Linda Lorimer and Miller will continue to negotiate with military officials, Miller said. She added that any arrangements with the military would be reviewed by the Yale College faculty and the Faculty of Arts and Science Executive Committee before the unit would be established, and that any agreement with ROTC would have to satisfy both the military and the University to be finalized.
“We will want to convey to the military leaders what arrangements would be consistent Yale academic practices and standards,” Miller said in an e-mail.
The program was banned in 1969 in part because Yale faculty said the science courses offered by the military were not up to the University’s academic standards, but today, elite universities are looking at ROTC’s possibilities in a different light. At an October conference at Columbia, educators and policy analysts discussed ways that the ROTC curriculum could be adapted in coming years to better fit with the goals and philosophy of a liberal arts education.
“The curriculum is based on the military’s standard operating procedure,” said James Campbell ’13, who heads the Yale College Council ROTC Committee. “Maybe there are ways Yale could build on the standard operating procedures to make it into a more intellectualized and challenging program that fits into the Yale curriculum.”
Even if Yale and the military could settle on a course of study, there are other obstacles to ROTC’s return. The Pentagon faces huge budget cuts, making this a difficult time for Yale to convince the military to invest in establishing a new program, said Eugene Fidell, a senior research scholar and lecturer at the Law School. On Jan. 8, Gates announced a $78 billion, five-year reduction in military spending.
“I’m concerned about the funding situation for the military and what that could mean [for a potential ROTC program at Yale],” Miller said. “At the same time, we can’t let that interfere with our energy and our desire to pursue the possibility of ROTC on campus.”
If the military decides to set up a unit at Yale, the Pentagon would pay for most of the cost, including hiring military science professors, buying equipment and funding off-campus trips, Campbell said. When ROTC existed on-campus decades ago, Yale provided facilities and a few secretaries, but the military did the rest, he added.
If ROTC does return to Yale, a YCC survey released in late December suggests that many students would be interested in participating: of the 1,346 undergraduates surveyed this November, almost 70 percent were in favor of the establishment of a ROTC unit on-campus. Nearly 300 respondents who are not in ROTC expressed interest in joining the program, and almost 100 said they would consider ROTC if a unit were established at Yale.
The YCC concluded its report on the results by urging administrators to meet with officials in the Department of Defense and discuss “the feasibility of establishing a unit on campus.” YCC president Jeff Gordon ’12 said students should have a voice in the way ROTC is established. He and other YCC representatives will meet with administrators this week for further discussions.
The survey results might not be enough to convince the military that it is worth their time and money to form a unit at Yale. Therefore, Yale must demonstrate that serious interest in ROTC exists among its students, Campbell said. He added that students who want to join ROTC should enroll in the program on a different campus — the University of New Haven and the University of Connecticut, Storrs both have ROTC — to send a signal to the military that a Yale unit would be viable.
Despite all the hurdles to ROTC’s return, having a unit on campus would benefit the military, said Fidell, who served in the coast guard.
“It means integrating a very talented group of Yale people into the military,” Fidell said. “These are the people we want to attract, so it’s important for the military.”
ROTC first came to Yale during World War I.