Brown Recommends Killing ROTC’s Return

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


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Don’t expect to see an influx of military fatigues on College Hill anytime soon.

In a quietly announced public hearing this afternoon, the Brown Committee on ROTC reaffirmed the University’s commitment to its 1969 resolution banning ROTC from campus. While the recommendation is not yet finalized, Dean Bergeron, the chair of the committee and Dean of the College, said she did not anticipate any drastic reevaluations in the coming weeks.

The committee made its presentation to the Brown University Community Council. The council also briefly addressed a controversy over cutting sports at the school. (See below for more.)

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The possibility of reinstating ROTC first emerged following the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in December of 2010. In recent years, Brown’s primary objection to ROTC has been that, by refusing to admit openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, it was in direct violation of the University’s nondiscrimination policy. With the act’s repeal, however, the issue has reemerged on campuses throughout the country. Back in March, Harvard ended its 40-year ban of the group, and since many have wondered if the notoriously liberal Brown would follow suit.

In February, University President Ruth Simmons commissioned a special committee to address the possibility of reinstating ROTC. The 11-person committee, chaired by the Dean of College, is composed of seven faculty members, two undergraduate students, and one graduate student. In the two months since its creation, the committee has had over 15 meetings, participated in numerous public discussions, and sent out multiple surveys.

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Committee wants to protect ‘faculty governance’

Today’s meeting marks the committee’s most definitive step towards a final recommendation. According to the committee’s surveys, roughly 76 percent of Alumni were in favor of allowing ROTC to return to campus. Undergraduate numbers also came out in favor of reinstating the organization, but by a much smaller margin, with only 55 percent in favor—it should be noted that the undergraduate poll suffered from painfully low response rates, with barely 11% of the student body voting.

Despite the relatively favorable view of outsiders, the committee declared that it did not see any reason for the University to revise its current policy. “We see the current policies representing not a bias against the military, but safeguarding faculty governance,” said Bergeron.

The committee did relay that it had met with Navy Officials who expressed interest in establishing a relationship with Brown, however, that relationship would be operated through already existing nearby naval ROTC programs at either Holy Cross of MIT. Without making any explicit statement about their intentions in regard to this possibility, the committee did acknowledge that it remained on the table.

Dodges gender issue

The hot-topic issue of the day—that of continued gender discrimination by ROTC—was deftly evaded by the committee. Despite the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the U.S. military still excludes transgender, and other individuals with non-standard gender presentation from participation; a fact which many members of the gay and lesbian community feel continues to come in conflict with nondiscriminatory policies. The committee cited the administrative, academic, and economic concerns regarding their inclination to maintain the prohibition, but they never addressed the discrimination argument. When pushed by attending members of gay and lesbian campus groups, Bergeron simply stated that due to the delicacy of the issue, the committee would need more time before formally addressing it.

Assuming there are no further revisions to the recommendation, it will be formally submitted to President Simmons in the next few weeks. From there it will be brought before Brown’s governing corporation for a final vote in May.

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Controversy over cutting sports

Following the ROTC hearing, the Brown University Community Council held a brief discussion on Brown’s recent controversial decision to cut four varsity sports teams: woman’s skiing, men’s wrestling, and men’s and women’s fencing. Dick Spies, chair of the athletic review committee, laid out the details of the committee’s plan, which, in addition to cutting teams, also calls for increased financial aid, an increased operating budget, and a decrease in reserved admission spots for athletes.

Spies emphasized the inability of Brown to maintain its current 37 varsity teams—among the highest in the Ivy League—on its limited budget. According to Spies, university athletics are spread too thin, and maintaining competitiveness will require both spending cuts and funding increases. “It’s a drain on the central infrastructure and the kinds of resources that are integral to competitiveness” said Spies, referring to the current 37 team roster.

A few student athletes questioned Spies about the methodology of the committee, and while sympathetic, he remained confident in the proposal, stating that the committee was simply trying to meet the conditions spelled out by the corporation. “Maybe they’ll say we’re way off the mark,” he conceded, “but I doubt it.”

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