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Brown should allow ROTC on campus

A color guard from the University of Kansas ROTC walks off the field at a Kansas City Royals game in May.Associated Press

MEMBERS OF the Brown University community are entitled to their views on American foreign policy. At the Brown campus in Providence, those may run decidedly against military solutions to world problems. But to channel those frustrations into keeping the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps off campus is misdirected — and ultimately harmful.

Today, Brown’s board of trustees is expected to follow the recommendations of a committee of Brown professors, students, and deans in maintaining restrictions on the undergraduate military training program — largely for reasons that are outside the military’s control.

Like a handful of other elite universities, Brown revoked the official status of its campus ROTC program during the Vietnam era, and then continued its policy in protest of the military’s ban on openly gay service members. Now that the “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy has been repealed, other universities - including Harvard and Yale - are welcoming ROTC back on campus.

But the Brown committee wants to continue forcing ROTC students to travel to Providence College for their training. President Ruth Simmons, in explaining the committee’s position, pointed to the military’s ban on transgender recruits, its hierarchical command structure, as well as “recent wars undertaken by the country.’’


Yet those policies are set largely by civilians in Congress and the White House, not the military. If Brown had the courage of its convictions, it would bar the Obama reelection campaign from campus. The fact that it hasn’t hints at a broader objection to the military, more cultural than political, as if the values of a Northeastern university couldn’t possibly coexist with the military’s.

This post-Vietnam rift between Pentagon and ivory tower has damaged both the military and the country. The military needs well-educated soldiers, sailors, and Air Force officers to meet the complex demands of modern warfare. And the country needs to get past the cultural divide that has politicized military service and risks turning the armed forces into regional institutions, with service members clustered in the South and Southwest.


Bridging that divide has clear benefits - even amid understandable concerns about discrimination against transgender people, a minority who nonetheless deserve equal treatment. Faculty and students are right to advocate for their transgender peers. But a failure to acknowledge the military’s acceptance of Congress’s repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ would send the wrong message. It would indicate that even major steps by the military won’t lessen the atmosphere of distrust. Having more officers trained on campuses with a deep commitment to non-discrimination will, by itself, speed the process of growth and change in the military.

At its meeting today, Brown’s board should consider the bigger picture. Keeping ROTC off campus doesn’t just hurt the students who are shunted off to another venue for military training. It hurts the nation, and welcoming ROTC back on Brown’s campus would be an act of trust and unity.