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ROTC Making a Comeback on Liberal Campuses

By Matthew Yglesias on December 20, 2010 at 9:30 am

"ROTC Making a Comeback on Liberal Campuses"

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A number of universities that initially distanced themselves from the military during the Vietnam Era found that full-scale participation in military recruiting activities violated their non-discrimination policies in an era of consciousness of the claims of gay and lesbian students to equality under the law. With the US Congress moving to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell those barriers should fade away. Bill Kristol somehow sees political gold for the right in this:

Though ROTC was kicked off campuses like Harvard, Yale and Columbia before gays in the military was ever an issue, DADT became the excuse offered by those universities in recent years for continuing to discriminate against ROTC. The excuse is gone. One trusts the presidents and trustees of colleges that have been keeping ROTC at arm’s length, allegedly because of DADT, will move posthaste to ensure a hearty welcome and full equality for ROTC at their universities. One would expect that patriotic alumni of those universities would insist on quick action. One would hope that prominent individuals, like Yale alum Joe Lieberman, who played so crucial a role in ending DADT, would lose no time in writing president Richard Levin to urge the re-installing of ROTC at Yale, that Crimson alums like Chuck Schumer will be in touch with Harvard president Drew Faust, and that Columbia graduate Barack Obama will weigh in with Fair Columbia’s Lee Bollinger.

But the Republican House will also have a role here. It can make its views known to the leaders of universities that receive federal funds; it can enforce the existing Solomon Amendment; it may perhaps want to consider new legislation if universities remain obdurate.

The trouble for Kristol is that even before the weekend was over the presidents of the universities in question were issuing statements expressing their eagerness to for change. These universities are large bureaucratic organizations, and the military is an even larger one, so I expect it’ll take a few months to sort out the details in a way that’s not unduly disruptive. Currently, for example, MIT plays host to a multi-campus ROTC brigade that includes students from Harvard, Tufts, Wellesley, etc. and I assume you don’t want to just disband it overnight.

But even though conservatives are wedding to this narrative about non-discrimination as an “excuse,” it was a quite real issue. And as we’re seeing, the best way for employers, whether military or civilian, to get on the right side of campus non-discrimination policies is to stop discriminating! When people look back at this period 10, 20, 30 years in the future they’ll see that the Solomon Amendment did basically nothing to help improve the military’s access to fancy campuses, whereas DADT repeal did a huge amount.

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