Fighting for ROTC on College Campuses (Part 1)

Having spoken at many college campuses nationwide in the last two years, it often shocks me how many administrations and faculty are ardently against our War on Terror. While their positions are problematic, the underlying issue is the failure to permit the free and dynamic expression of thoughts and speech that is the foundation of this nation. In particular, many campuses have banned or tried to ban ROTC programs. With heads buried in the academic sand, the ability of the armed forces to attract the best and brightest is severely hampered by these actions.

Here’s a telling, and easily found, graphic:


Does the administration of these universities think that members of the armed forces should only be obtained from poor communities that lack adequate opportunities? Do they believe that the terrorists will just ‘go away’ if we don’t address this issue? Do they think their universities are impervious to attack by terrorists or other enemies and the lives of their students are not worth protecting?

Pundits can argue the merits of the War on Terror. What I am arguing is that ROTC must be protected on college campuses, regardless of the specific military campaign. Some of the best officers that I served with in the Army joined the ROTC. It provided them with a means to reduce their student debt and develop a sense of duty and country that supersedes the everyday ‘need’ for the largest HDTV or the most expensive car. With college tuition soaring, the ability to offset these costs are even more necessary. The ROTC commitment is not life-long and provides members with a very strong footing when they leave the military.

While there are many benefits for the ROTC member, there are even greater benefits to our country. ROTC was initiated during the Civil War and further formalized after the Spanish-American War of 1898 as a result of a significant shortage of professional soldiers and a national concern for emergency preparedness. It was formally established by the National Defense Act of 1916.

Similarly today, in the 21st century, the ability to attract and retain bright, young leaders is vitally important to the strength and vitality of the military. Many of the students at these schools have the drive and ambition to develop new strategies, ideas and technologies to protect this nation. The ability to attract ROTC candidates provides diversity that is necessary for effective leadership. Some of our greatest leaders started in an ROTC program: Colin Powell, Sam Walton, Lou Holtz, George Marshall and Donald Rumsfeld and innumerable business and civic leaders.

What are the negatives? Why do college campuses resist? They claim that recruiters are aggressive and over bearing. They claim that the War on Terror is unjust and the treatment of gays does not coincide with their school policy. Despite this, I don’t see many campuses being selective about which companies they permit to recruit for management and other positions. Are all companies screened for their treatment of workers in the Third World, for their violation of EPA laws, for their eradication of forests in South America, for their locations in rouge or enemy countries, for their treatment of paternity and maternity leave, for their health coverage of civil unions and partnerships and their record on discrimination issues? A resounding, NO! While the existence of these ills does not justify permitting ROTC on campus, the reality is that all companies have weaknesses and to single out the federal government is wrong and lacks foresight.

The failure of universities to embrace the benefits of the ROTC program and treat it as it would any other large employer not only limits individual opportunities, it also is counter to our national interest. Future leaders from these prestigious schools will strengthen our armed forces. The students on college campuses are intelligent; they can make an informed choice between ROTC opportunities and other industry positions. I have seen that by the pointed and direct questions I get from them about my experiences in the military. This issue is not about the War on Terror, but about the vitality and strength of our armed forces regardless of the campaign or mission. (See Kagan’s perspective and more in Part 2.)