College one of few Ivies with ROTC

by Madeline Sims | 11/18/09 11:00pm

by Sam Purcell and Sam Purcell / The Dartmouth

As the nation waits to see whether President Barack Obama will follow through on his campaign promise to eliminate the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, Dartmouth remains one of four Ivy League institutions to permit the Reserve Officers' Training Corps to train students on campus. The Army ROTC, which has had a tumultuous history at the College, has survived despite accusations that the program is discriminatory.

The College gives the ROTC program a $10,000 annual training budget and a place to meet, according to Maj. Lawrence Forsyth, assistant professor of military science for Army ROTC at Dartmouth. Dartmouth's chapter is a satellite of the program at Norwich University, meaning the faculty who train students commute from Northfield, Vt.

Twelve students are currently enrolled in the ROTC program at Dartmouth. Of these participants, seven have signed on for an eight-year military commitment after graduation. Contracted students receive scholarships from the government for four years of tuition, a book stipend and an additional $300 to $500 per month.

Despite the controversy surrounding "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Forsyth said he has not heard of any plans to eliminate the ROTC program at Dartmouth in the near future.

Many students said that the program's small size makes it flexible and keeps it from interfering with their overall "Dartmouth experience."

"Being part of ROTC hasn't hindered me at all," Philip Aubart '10, a commissioned ROTC member, said.

Aubart is a former staff columnist for The Dartmouth.

He explained that he has taken a full course load each term, along with an on-campus job. Additionally, Aubart took an off-term in Cairo, participated in a foreign study program and remained on campus for sophomore summer.

"I definitely still got the full Dartmouth experience," Aubart said.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

At Dartmouth, tension surrounding the military's ban on gay service members emerged in the early 1990s when various campus groups issued public statements asserting that ROTC's existence on campus was incompatible with the College's commitment to equality and diversity.

In September 1991, the Board of Trustees issued an official statement promising to end the ROTC program by April 1993, unless the military reversed its policy. When the deadline arrived, however, the Board extended its ultimatum with the hope that then-President Bill Clinton would soon lift the ban. Clinton had promised to reverse the policy as part of his presidential campaign.

Clinton signed into law the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on Nov. 30, 1993. The policy a compromise that stands today permits LGBT individuals to serve in the military as long as they do not reveal their sexuality. The government has claimed that open homosexuality in the military would compromise unit morale.

The College's Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Concerns issued a statement in March 1994 argued that the new policy was discriminatory, violated individuals' right to free speech and conflicted with Dartmouth's mission. The coalition urged the College to eliminate ROTC on campus.

Despite this plea, the Board voted to continue the program on April 17, 1994. The Board added, however, that the College should make concerted efforts to challenge the military's discriminatory policy at the federal level.

Then-College President James Freedman and much of the faculty attacked the Board's decision. Angry community members issued a paper against the decision titled "Fight Back!"

The paper urged the Board to reverse its decision and submit legal briefs urging the government to revise the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

A decade later, ROTC participants and Dartmouth administrators, including then-President James Wright and Dean of the College James Larimore, began lobbying for full tuition scholarships for Dartmouth ROTC cadets. After a year-long effort, the U.S. Army announced in May 2006 that it would pay full tuition. Dartmouth participants previously received $10,000-$15,000 less in scholarship money than their peers at other universities.

Not everyone on campus, though, voiced support for ROTC. In November 2005, the College's Gay Straight Alliance issued a statement opposing ROTC's presence on campus due to previously expressed concerns about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"The administration puts Dartmouth's pluralistic community in jeopardy with continued sponsorship of the ROTC program," the statement said.

Not wishing to disadvantage students receiving ROTC scholarships, though, GSA urged the College to allow students to continue receiving scholarship money, but asked the College to require students to train at off-campus facilities.

ROTC in the Ivy League

While Dartmouth does not require cadets to train off-campus, the policy is common at many of the College's peer institutions.

Harvard University, Yale University, Brown University and Columbia University, which all eliminated on-campus ROTC programs during the anti-war protests of the 1960s, currently require students to travel to nearby campuses to pursue military training.

Princeton University, like Dartmouth, has an on-campus Army ROTC program, while the University of Pennsylvania hosts the Navy ROTC. Cornell University sponsors Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC programs on its campus.

Harvard President Drew Faust told The New York Times this fall that she cannot support a group that is closed to a segment of the student population and that the military's policy contradicts Harvard's anti-discriminatory stance.

ROTC supporters, however, argue that Harvard's policy is contradictory, citing the university's willingness to host other military-oriented programs.

"The way to resolve these inconsistencies is to permit gays and lesbians to serve in the military," Foust told The Times.

Forsyth said he wishes more Ivy League institutions followed Dartmouth's example by allowing ROTC programs on campus. "You have smart folks in the Ivy League, and in trying to build an organization that's strong and well-rounded, pulling people from the Ivy League would definitely help you do that," he said.

Aaron Cappelli '12, a commissioned member of Dartmouth's ROTC program, said that it is unfortunate that the long distances cadets have to travel for training may discourage people at other institutions from joining.

"Having to go off campus to participate would be discouraging," he said. "I think the idea of choice and people at least having the option is important."

Lt. Col. Steven Alexander, professor of military science and leadership at Cornell, said he would like for more Ivy League institutions to allow ROTC back on their campuses, but that the program "does not want to be part of campuses that cannot be accommodating."

"It needs to be a symbiotic relationship, and if that doesn't exist, then we'll look elsewhere," he said.

Military classes are given for academic credit at Cornell, Alexander said.

At Princeton, however, administrators will not consider offering academic credit for ROTC participation because of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, according to Col. John Stark, professor of military science at the university.

"As long as this policy is in place, they will not even discuss the possibility of accreditation," Stark said. "Last year, I sought to achieve academic credit, but now I am going with the status quo until the national policy has been changed."

Dartmouth does not offer academic credit for ROTC courses, Forsyth said.

Current Campus Stance

Pam Misener, the adviser to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students at Dartmouth, said that balancing respect for various life experiences is important in thinking about the College's ROTC policy.

"As gay students, if we want people to be respectful of our experiences, we want to also be respectful of people who want to pursue military training and eventually a military lifestyle," she said.

While the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is "absolutely discriminatory," having a "very limited" ROTC presence would be an acceptable compromise, Misener said.

While most Gender, Sexuality, XYZ members would say that the military's policy is unfair, fighting to get ROTC off campus has not been a priority in recent years, Misener said.

"Every couple of years, someone comes forward and asks why ROTC is allowed to be on campus," she said. "It's an issue that's always present, but I think students have chosen to focus on other things we can put our energy into rather than continuing to beat our head against the wall with this issue."

Roland Adams, Dartmouth's director of media relations, said that the College is committed to supporting equal opportunities for students, regardless of sexual orientation.

"It is our understanding that the Obama administration is seeking reconsideration of the military's current policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Adams said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "We would welcome such reconsideration and will continue to monitor developments along these lines closely."

Early ROTC History

The ROTC program provided Dartmouth students with scholarships and academic credit for participation through the 1960s.

As anti-Vietnam War protests escalated in 1969, however, approximately 80 students led by members of Students for a Democratic Society staged a sit-in in Parkhurst Hall to protest ROTC's presence on campus. Most of the protesters were arrested at the May 6 all-night sit-in.

That same month, Dartmouth's Committee on Organization and Policy established a study group to determine whether ROTC was compatible with "the educational objectives of the College."

An ad hoc subcommittee issued a report that found that ROTC was "not incompatible" with the purposes of a liberal education. It questioned, though, "the establishment of military units as academic departments."

A motion to eliminate ROTC on campus "as soon as possible" failed in a faculty vote. Instead, the faculty approved a three-year plan to phase out course credit for ROTC and a termination of ROTC on campus by June 1973.

Former College President David McLaughlin allowed ROTC to return to campus beginning in 1981, although almost 500 students signed petitions against ROTC's return.

**The original version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of Harvard University President Drew Faust.*