Friday, December 09, 2011

Modular concept of Columbia ROTC+

What will the new Columbia Navy ROTC program look like?

The agreement signed by Columbia President Lee Bollinger and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has not been released to the public. All our information about the form of the new Columbia NROTC program is from official accounts of the 26MAY11 signing ceremony:
Under the agreement, first announced on April 21, the NROTC program will have an office on Columbia’s campus and active duty Navy and Marine Corps officers will meet with Columbia NROTC midshipmen during routinely scheduled office hours. Navy and Marine Corps-option midshipmen will participate in NROTC through a unit hosted at SUNY Maritime College in Throgs Neck, NY.
Here are transcripts of President Bollinger's speech and Secretary Mabus's speech from the signing ceremony.

The basic premise of the modular concept is that delegating the required NROTC training to SUNY Maritime allows the ROTC components on the Columbia campus to be customized to Columbia ROTC+. The modular concept builds on my suggestions for Columbia ROTC designers and builders. Also see Blueprint for Columbia ROTC.

The long-term goal is ROTC programs fully manifested on the Columbia campus. Establishing a complete ROTC program on campus is the practical way for the program to develop a Columbia identity, interact with the University community, and most importantly, build up Columbia ROTC student numbers. I had hoped the provisional Columbia NROTC program would use an extension model (training on campus - headquarters at SUNY Maritime) to maximize presence on campus and access for students. However, indications are pointing to a less visible, less accessible commuter model (office on campus - training at SUNY Maritime).

My modular formulation of Columbia ROTC is based on the principle of making lemonade from lemons or, in this case, making the most out of a crosstown commuter arrangement with SUNY Maritime NROTC with an NROTC-staffed office on the Columbia campus. Under the circumstances, a unified hybrid Columbia ROTC+ program entirely located on the Columbia campus may not be realistic at start-up, whereas a loosely interlocking modular approach can reasonably be achieved with a crosstown commuter arrangement at start-up.

In the short term, the modular concept is actually helped by a physical separation between the Columbia campus and the NROTC foster-parent unit at SUNY Maritime. What's needed is just enough formal ROTC presence on campus to provide focus and direction, and stake out the ROTC space on campus, without defining or filling the ROTC space. We also need the NROTC officers at Columbia to be entrepeneurs willing to facilitate filling the ROTC space on campus with Columbia-defined programming or, at least, Columbia-modified NROTC programming.

The modular concept of Columbia ROTC+ has 3 parts:

Part 1 (off campus). Mandatory NROTC training. Ease the cross-campus demands on students for training at SUNY Maritime as much as possible; the more NROTC requirements students can fulfill at Columbia the better. The bulk of non-adjustable NROTC training will likely remain at SUNY Maritime. I suspect there isn't much tolerance for local experimentation in the mandated NROTC components because Columbia Naval and Marines officers must graduate with the same basic training as all Naval and Marines officers. In order to lessen the cross-campus burden on students, heighten ROTC presence on the Columbia campus, and persistently expose students to ROTC, I recommend replacing the non-mandatory NROTC programming at SUNY Maritime with ROTC+ programming on Columbia's campus.

Part 2 (on campus). Alexander Hamilton's Hearts of Oak. On my suggestions page, I suggest a user-driven creative laboratory space for Columbia ROTC students within the available space allowed by formal ROTC and school commitments. For science fiction fans, I analogized this lab space to Ender Wiggins's launchie practices in Battle School (see Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game). More aptly, the tradition I want to revive with CU ROTC+ is that of Alexander Hamilton and his King's College classmates taking ownership of their military development with Hearts of Oak, innovating their own approach to soldiering, and looking ahead by adopting the most sophisticated and strategic weapon of their day - the king of battle, artillery. While I trust French and Indian War veterans, such as George Washington, and European veterans polished his conventional soldiering skills once he joined the regular army (analogous to the required training at SUNY Maritime), Alexander Hamilton the Army officer was first formed as a self-actualizing Hearts of Oak man.

If we truly believe Columbia ROTC students have unparalleled potential and exceptional collective intelligence, then let's give them the lab space to create, experiment, and look ahead, by their own faculties. I want Columbia ROTC graduates to stand out as leaders who have taken ownership of their profession and rebel thinkers who have been innovating as Alexander Hamilton's intellectual heirs since they were students. When future geopolitical challenges catch other military leaders by surprise, Columbia ROTC graduates should be ready to give new answers for new questions.

Part 3 (on campus). ROTC+. We have barely explored the potential of mobilizing the 21st century Ivy League university to prepare officers for an era in which an agile versatile military is as important as a disciplined technically proficient military. Columbia also provides an ideal setting for students to explore the ethos of American military leadership. With the NROTC foster-parent unit headquartered on a remote campus, what innovative ROTC+ programming can Columbia professors develop for ROTC students under their own domain? Freed of the mandated ROTC curriculum, what ROTC+ programming can campus NROTC officers create collaboratively with Columbia professors? Academic course credit can be used as an objective standard for campus ROTC+ programming.

In the modular concept, campus NROTC officers provide just enough focus and direction to stake out ROTC space on campus, then facilitate Part 2 (Hearts of Oak) and Part 3 (ROTC+) filling and defining the ROTC space. A benefit of separating the NROTC foster-parent unit from the campus is that Columbia Army and Air Force cadets could then join with Columbia Navy midshipmen on campus in Columbia-defined Part 2 and Part 3, which the cadets could be dissuaded from doing if all ROTC activity on campus was contained within a formal NROTC program.

Secondary benefits:

4. Educating the campus. Columbia ROTC advocates have stressed the engagement and educational roles of ROTC. However, while conventional ROTC (as opposed to theoretical ROTC+) indeed has campus engagement and educational features, its primary mission is training, not reaching out to the campus community. I believe the combination of a structurally sufficient yet not overbearing formal ROTC presence on campus, Columbia ROTC student-driven experimentation, and professor-driven innovation can produce uniquely customized engagement and educational opportunities for the University community that are characterized by Columbia entities rather than the military.

5. Pipeline. The future of war and peace and global leadership for America is highly uncertain right now. We know, however, that the Columbia graduates serving in the Navy and Marines will be tasked to manage whatever geopolitical crises arise. Columbia's Army and Air Force officers will be on call, too. We should aim to produce the best mentally prepared officers, but even that may not be enough to manage unanticipated complex situations. If Part 2 and Part 3 become robust on campus, Columbia officers on the ground 'over there' who are stumped and need solutions quickly will then have the option of reaching back to Columbia with real-world based "scenarios", either whole or in part depending on security need. Columbia ROTC students could then pool their intellects and team with interested professors, graduate-student officers, milvets, and even alumni to rapidly work on the scenarios and upload solutions to the Columbia officers anxiously waiting on the ground. Such a pipeline would boost the professional development of Columbia ROTC students, add value to ROTC+, strengthen the bonds of the Columbia military community, and assist Columbia officers in their real-world work.

As the Provost's NROTC advisory committee fleshes out the new program, it matters for Columbia ROTC advocates to have already envisioned what the Columbia NROTC program should look like. Once we have that picture in mind, we'll know how to advise the formation process.

The proper direction is a steady increase of ROTC presence on campus with eventually full ROTC programs at Columbia. A full ROTC program on campus is preferable to an extension ROTC program on campus, and an extension ROTC program on campus is preferable to a crosstown commuter arrangement.

Until Columbia acquires ROTC programs fully manifested on campus, I believe the modular concept of Columbia ROTC+ can work with a crosstown commuter arrangement.


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Anonymous Steve Trynosky said...


Great observations. I would add another dimension to the desirability of having NROTC instruction on the Columbia campus itself - the impracticality of placing Columbia midshipmen in a training environment geared towards a 24-7 military environment (ie. SUNY-Maritime).

Talk about a learning curve! I can't imagine the benefit of placing a relative handful of civilian-oriented Columbia NROTC "trailblazers" in the SUNY-Maritime training environment. For all sorts of organizational psychology and training efficacy reasons, this is undesirable. For starters, the SUNY-Maritime students will comprise the overwhelming majority of the unit and completely comprise the senior student leadership. The Maritime students live a spartan and isolated college life and this cohort has the opportunity to form intense bonds in this situation. By design, the Maritime student body focuses inward on an insular military culture - the antithesis of the global, outward focused Columbia student experience. Since Maritime is geared towards a 24-7 military model, why would anyone committed to expanding NROTC in NYC want to place a relative handful of new students in this mix? The learning curve will be steep and there will be many cultural and organizational barriers to the true acceptance of the Columbia students. How will midshipmen retention fare in this model or, more importantly, the eagerness Columbia NROTC students will have in trying to attract classmates to the program? How can the program grow with such barriers to participation, acceptance and integration?

There are huge drawbacks to subordinating small numbers of geographically distant "civilian" students in a military college ROTC program. Norwich University has faced this challenge with its support of Army ROTC at Dartmouth. While not ideal, Norwich is committed to holding as much training as practical at Dratmouth to avoid the pitfalls I outlined above. By the way, the travel time from hanover, NH to Norwich is far less than the travel time from Columbia is to Maritime by mass transit.

Perhaps most problematic, is the fact that the NROTC instructors will operate out of SUNY-Maritime. They will have full-time access and "face time" to the Maritime midshipman, while the Columbia students will be seen as geographically remote "part-timers". As an Army ROTC graduate of a "cross-enrolled" school, I cannot overstate the built in advantages the ROTC students who go to the "host" school have. This manifests itself in all sorts of ways - favoritism on the part of instructors, an inherent advantage to participate in informal mentoring and the all important "face time" with the very senior officers' whose assessments largely determine your initial military assignment and career field designation.

Columbia leadership needs to demand better from the Navy. As a minimum, Columbia should have 2 NROTC instructors assigned full-time to Manhattan and all classroom instruction should be conducted on Columbia's campus.

12/16/2011 9:00 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Hi Steve,

Valuable insights, not all of them readily apparent to folks who lack insider knowledge of the NYC-area ROTC programs, which may include the Columbia Provost NROTC advisory committee. I encourage you to share your thoughts with them.

12/19/2011 1:52 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Bruce greer Wrote:

As an Ivy League NROTC graduate and instructor at Northwestern, and son of a Harvard AFROTC graduate, there are several things that would help increase the intake of ROTC graduates.

1)More slots for ROTC-current programs spread the targeted graduates over a large number of institutions, reducing critical mass

2) Credit for academic courses-many students take ROTC courses for no credit at Ivy institutions, and courses in history, engineering, finance and management get credit at other schools, and in the Navy are based on USNA courses

3)Admissions and academic/logistics help. Many students take courses and have obligations that are NOT at their home school, e.g. Harvard students at MIT, Drexel students at Penn. This is difficult for course work, timing of classes, and consumes time

4) Attitude of the schools staff. As fewer and fewer professors have any military experience and many have had no interaction with the services, and over the period since 1970, perhaps none at all. The connection matters. Many of our recent Presidents have come from Yale, Harvard and like universites, but only one had his experience without ROTC on campus (President Obama at Columbia and Harvard), and he has called for its return. Both Bushes at Yale (which started an Aviation unit before the first world war), Clinton (Yale and Georgetown), Ford at Yale, and Nixon at Duke. Both sides benefit from the exposure, as does the country.

5) Lastly, and much to their credit, many Ivy League schools have dramatically lowered the costs of attending for most of the pool of students and have seen applications skyrocket. Sharing some of those benefits with the government and potential ROTC students could go a long way in increasing interest.

1/01/2012 4:56 PM  

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