Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Columbia and Navy agree on Columbia Navy ROTC

Catching many advocates by surprise, Columbia quickly breezed through the outreach and offer/acceptance negotiation stage for an ROTC program. Only three weeks after the University Senate approved ROTC at Columbia, Columbia and Navy announced an agreement for Columbia students to participate in Navy ROTC through SUNY Maritime Navy ROTC. Read the official announcements from Columbia and Navy. According to the Columbia Spectator, Navy reached out to Columbia over a year ago, thus preempting the mystery of whether any branch would be interested in ROTC at Columbia. A crosstown agreement with the nearest NROTC program appears to be the standard package deal that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has offered to all the Ivy League schools (Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Brown) that have deliberated ROTC since DADT was repealed. I'm grateful to Secretary Mabus for his foresight to resolve my concern last Spring that Columbia and military leaders would each be dissuaded from initiating Columbia ROTC by the other side's disinterest. Someone had to send the first clear signal of interest across the civil-military gap and Mabus did that, thus empowering the Columbia leadership with the crucial assurance that there would be a real reward should they risk pursuing a University Senate endorsement of ROTC. Thank you, Secretary Mabus for fulfilling the prerequirement. Should we ever meet in person, remind me that I owe you a drink.

Skipping ahead doesn't mean the job is finished. Each stage presents distinct challenges. In the current stage, the details of the Columbia program will be decided. It's a daunting task: the devil is in the details. The Columbia committee to implement the Navy ROTC program will be led by Provost Claude Steele, who has a background teaching at state universities and, therefore, should have some familiarity with campus ROTC programs.

The first big question is whether Columbia NROTC will follow the Harvard/MIT NROTC (commuter) model, where the headquarters and majority of NROTC activity for Harvard midshipmen are at MIT, or the Dartmouth/Norwich AROTC (extension) model, where the majority of AROTC activity is at Dartmouth but the program headquarters is at Norwich University. Because SUNY Maritime is much farther from Columbia than MIT is from Harvard, and would require an impractical commute for Columbia midshipmen to a remote location, the most practical way to organize the Columbia NROTC program under the current Columbia-Navy agreement is as an extension program on Columbia's campus.

As advocates, we want NROTC to be integrated on campus as much as possible. Our goal is NROTC activity and cadre located on Columbia's campus for the convenience of our midshipmen, as the necessary base to develop the Columbia military character of and campus-centered support network for the program, and to capture for Columbia on campus the broader interactive and educational functions of ROTC.

Finally, as I stated in the Blueprint for Columbia ROTC's "The devil is in the details" section (back-up copy), I believe the way to build up Columbia ROTC student numbers, which is the primary metric for program success, is a program manifested on campus, whether as an extension program or a program fully based on campus:
The damaged status of ROTC at Columbia after 1969, alienation from poor exposure, distance and poor access in urban terms, and lack of institutional assistance likely deter most Columbia students from seriously considering ROTC. It’s simply unfair to judge Columbia students for not joining an ROTC program that isn’t there. We first have to plant the seed in order to grow the tree – building up ROTC student numbers at Columbia first requires ROTC on campus. Then, as Columbia ROTC is nurtured into a fully integrated and supported part of the university, Columbia ROTC student numbers will grow over time. That’s just common sense. Roughly one-fourth of the undergraduate population is renewed every year. After ROTC is established on campus and properly advertised, eventually every student applying to Columbia will know about the ROTC program on campus.
Eric

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