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Stanford faculty vote to invite ROTC back to campus after four decades

April 28, 2011 |  5:42 pm

Stanford University’s faculty voted Thursday evening to invite the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) back to the campus for the first time since the antiwar movement of the early 1970s, a controversial turnaround prompted by the recent end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against homosexuals in the military.

Stanford’s President John L. Hennessy said he would soon seek to start negotiations with the military branches that could return ROTC to the university, joining other elite schools in welcoming back the military training units that had been pushed off campus or denied academic standing during the Vietnam War. Columbia University took similar pro-ROTC steps last week, Harvard did so last month and several others are considering the actions.

The Stanford faculty voted 28 to 9 with three abstentions after an emotional, two-hour debate. Much of the discussion focused on the ban against transgender people serving in the armed forces, even after the 17-year-old “Don’t Ask” rule against homosexuals serving openly in the military was lifted in December. Critics said allowing ROTC on campus would be discriminatory against transgender students.

About 40 Stanford students demonstrated outside the meeting and promised to protest again if ROTC offices open on campus. Among them was chemical engineering sophomore Thomas Joseph, 20, of Portland, Ore.,  who said he opposed the American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and didn’t want Stanford to be involved in the military.

“I’m tired of it,” he said of the wars, “and I’m not for a bigger military.”

The move came a week after the release of a campus commission report that said the return of ROTC would contribute to a better educated officer corps, one more able to make judgments with “a high sense of moral principle and secure commitment to the rule of law.”

Commission Chairman Ewart Thomas, a psychology professor, told Thursday’s meeting that having ROTC on campus would bring more diverse points of view to campus and trigger discussions about the military, history and leadership. “That’s something from which all our students would benefit,” he said.

Under ROTC, students receive scholarships in exchange for agreeing to military service after graduation. The Army, Navy and Air Force run separate programs for new officers.

Stanford has a particularly traumatic history with ROTC. In May 1968, the Naval ROTC building on campus was destroyed in an arson fire. Over the next couple of decades, the school agreed to allow students to take ROTC classes at three other schools in the region -- Naval ROTC at UC Berkeley, Air Force at San Jose State and Army at Santa Clara University. Currently, 14 Stanford students are in those programs, but do not receive academic credit for them at Stanford.

-- Larry Gordon, in Palo Alto

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