Amid anti-military sentiments and anger surrounding the Vietnam War, Yale announced in 1969 that it would no longer give credit for courses that ROTC students took as part of their military training programs. Two years later, Yale’s ROTC unit shut down after the U.S. Navy chose not to renew its contract with the University.
Forty-six years later — and six years after it re-established a presence on campus — Yale ROTC is thriving, with 42 University students in Navy ROTC and more than 80 members in Air Force ROTC, half of whom are Yalies and half of whom come from surrounding colleges. But some things have not changed. Yale College still does not offer credit for almost all ROTC courses.
According to Commander of Yale’s Air Force ROTC unit Colonel Tom McCarthy, first-year and sophomore air force cadets spend about two and a half hours of their week in academic courses, including a leadership lab, as well as two hours in physical fitness programs. Juniors and seniors spend another three hours in academic courses, meaning they spend at least seven and a half hours on ROTC each week. Like Yale College courses, Air Force ROTC courses assign readings and papers and administer quizzes and finals in addition to the actual course time.
Navy ROTC has a similar schedule, Midshipman Lily Sands ’18 told the News. Students typically have class for about an hour twice a week and lab once a week for almost two hours. Although the type of work varies based on the course, Sands said, the Navy ROTC courses always have some combination of problem sets, midterms, finals and papers.
Other universities and colleges, including many in the area that belong to Yale’s Air Force ROTC unit, receive credit for their ROTC courses. But Yale College students receive credit only for history professor Paul Kennedy’s course —Military History of the West since 1500, which is open to all undergraduates — during their sophomore year.
Yale College Dean of Academic Programs George Levesque DIV ’94 told the News that when ROTC courses were reintroduced to the Yale curriculum in 2012, the Yale College Dean’s Office’s Course of Study Committee deemed that the courses, which often emphasize practical training, were “incomparable to Yale College courses and ineligible for graduation credit.” Still, he said, other ROTC courses could be considered for credit in the future, especially given that the commanding officers of the ROTC units have advanced academic degrees and could occasionally offer courses that “meet Yale’s standards for academic credit.” He also acknowledged the significant time commitment ROTC members must devote to their training, comparing it to the time commitment of a varsity athlete.
“I greatly respect the dedication of our cadets and midshipmen who manage these responsibilities on top of their courses,” Levesque said.
McCarthy also emphasized the preprofessional nature of the Air Force ROTC program at Yale, calling the “preparation for a career profession of arms” similar to the “alternative education experiences” doctors and lawyers must undertake before they begin their professions.
Sands cited a required Navy ROTC class devoted to learning how to navigate on the ocean and drive a ship to show that it does not make sense for some ROTC courses to receive credit. “It’s much too technical for a liberal arts school,” Sands said.
According to Sands, Yale’s Navy ROTC unit makes an effort to keep the workload for members low so they can focus on their schoolwork and extracurricular activities.
Ryan Bauman ’20, also a midshipsman in Navy ROTC, agreed that the Navy ROTC courses he has taken so far have been easier than Yale courses, adding that it is “fair” that they do not qualify for course credit. However, Bauman said, he has heard from fellow Navy ROTC members that the junior courses, which focus on the engineering skills necessary for the Navy, are more challenging than the average Yale course and do probably warrant credit.
The attitude among students in ROTC is “‘Hey, I’m waking up to go to 6:30 to go to this class twice a week, I’m spending X number of hours doing homework, and I’m not getting credit for it,’” Bauman said. “You’re spending more time in this Navy class that’s taking away time that you could be working on assignments that are actually giving you credit, and that’s really frustrating.”
Air Force Cadet John Slife ’19 said his Air Force ROTC courses, which are not necessarily the same in content or structure as Navy ROTC courses, are more difficult and time consuming than many of his Yale College courses.
“It is just like any other course — we do have tests, we do have weekly homework, we do have weekly readings,” Slife said. “There are students who do wish that it did count for some sort of credit. That way, they weren’t loading up the extra classes on their schedule in order to just kind of meet whatever Yale wants them to meet.”
On a personal level, however, Slife told the News that he could understand both sides of the argument. Although it “confuses” him that, given the rigor of the Air Force ROTC courses, he does not receive credit, he likes to have the opportunity to take lots of classes, and the fact that the ROTC courses do not count for credit allows him to do so.
Similarly, Sands, a political science major and a member of two orchestras, said she is “very happy” that Navy ROTC courses do not count for credit, because if the classes were as rigorous as those offered for credit at Yale, she would have to cut back on classes for her major or limit her extracurricular involvement.
“As it is I can feasibly take 5.5 credits and still manage my ROTC schedule,” she said. “If they were credit bearing I wouldn’t be able to take as many classes that I was excited about; instead one out of my four to five classes would be an ROTC class.”
Sands said she has not heard “a ton” of frustration about the lack of course credits for ROTC courses, noting that the Navy pays for Navy ROTC members’ tuition, gives them monthly stipends of between $250–400 and guarantees them a job after they graduate.
Although some ROTC members’ attitude about the lack of course credits for ROTC courses may not have changed since 1972, Bauman said the military’s relationship with Yale has improved dramatically.
“The Navy has been able to find a position that they’re happy with the University,” Bauman said. “The Navy is just really happy to have officers coming out of Yale. It’s a healthy relationship we have with the University and definitely sustainable.”
Adelaide Feibel | firstname.lastname@example.org