The ROTC Debate

March 9th, 2012

ROTC programs at U.S. universities have provided a great opportunity for students to earn a bachelor’s degree in exchange for agreeing to serve their country as officers in the U.S. military (“All That Brown Can Be,” November/December). The decision of the Brown Corporation (as apparently directed by a faculty committee) to continue not to allow these programs at Brown represents the worst instincts of academia: the presumption that the faculty knows best and therefore their view should be able to dictate over national laws and customs.

This refusal to allow ROTC training on campus, which would help less affluent students pay for Brown tuition, is particularly distressing, as the same governing body has driven the cost of a Brown education far beyond the capabilities of almost all American families. In fact, the cost of a Brown education is now almost one-third greater than the median cost of a house in the United States (according to estimates from the Brown admission office). All of this appears to be the result of a kind of dreamy arrogance by an institution that has lost touch with those it should seek to serve.

It was interesting that President Simmons chose to relate the refusal to allow ROTC’s campus return to the abolition of slavery. She doubtless recalls that that great accomplishment would not have occurred without the actions of the military. She probably also knows that the commander-in-chief at the time had previously served as an officer: militia captain Abraham Lincoln.

For all those reasons my donations for scholarships will continue to go to the alma maters of my wife and three sons, all of which deign to accept ROTC programs on their campuses.  

Phil Blake ’66
Madison, Wisc.



Over the last four decades, I’ve lost count of the letters I’ve written to the BAM opposing the reinstatement of ROTC on campus. Now that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed, I’d like to reconsider.

It’s not that the military is without problems. The torture of militants in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places is a case in point. However, if handled properly, the return of ROTC to campus could benefit both the military and Brown. I suggest two conditions to which the military would have to agree before ROTC could be reestablished on campus.

First, any Brown member of ROTC must be free to express his or her opinion on any issue in public and in uniform. This would be a lifetime commitment: if an officer trained in Brown’s ROTC program were ever subject to any punishment or official criticism or any interference with his or her military career for any act of stating a point of view, in public or in private, in uniform or out, Brown ROTC would end immediately.

Second, ROTC would assist in reestablishing the shooting sports at Brown. Harvard has a shooting team, as does Yale. Moreover, the National Shooting Sports Foundation makes grants to universities to help cover the expenses of getting a competitive shooting team together. ROTC would find certified instructors and provide a place to shoot for all Brown students.

This second condition is more than just a reinvigoration of the shooting sports. The military is supposed to provide for the defense of the country, and not just interfere in the internal affairs of countries around the world. It is still the law in this country that all able-bodied men (and now women) are members of the unorganized militia, and can be called upon to defend country, community, and family. Having ROTC on campus assisting with this would help Brown students be ready, should the need arise.

Bruce A. Clark ’70
Jurupa Valley, Calif.



Brown’s approach to ROTC is clearly more “nuanced” to the BAM than to this outside observer. Instead of a thoughtful swipe at the pros and cons of bringing ROTC back, Brown seems to be tap dancing based on old culture wars.

President Simmons says the faculty should rule on ROTC because it’s an academic issue. I don’t think so. Academics were never the issue for ROTC, which was removed from campus in 1969 because most of the faculty and students then (including me) thought the war in Vietnam was wrong. We didn’t want anything to do with the military. We didn’t want the military recruiting for Vietnam.

On the surface, the discrimination against transgenders is a more serious concern. I certainly support equal opportunity for everyone in the LGBT community. But on reflection, I wonder if this issue isn’t a straw dog as well. Transgenders will always be a challenge to fully integrate into the melting pot that is the military. That’s why so few have any desire to choose that path.

President Simmons says it’s Brown’s obligation “to train leaders of all kinds.” Military training is one of the fastest ways of creating leaders. The average ROTC candidate gets more hours of team building, crisis management and leadership training than any MBA student. The average ROTC grad will be in charge of more men and women at age twenty than the typical Brown grad will at age thirty-five. That’s probably one reason the service academies have produced more U.S. presidents than Brown.

Finally, having ROTC students on campus—and treating those students with equal respect—will be a useful reminder to the Brown community that America’s military has always been one of its core institutions. As it is now, a Brown student is more likely to have classmates from Iceland or Bali than from the land of ROTC.

Tim Truby ’73
Los Angeles



After reading how President Simmons has handled the recent ROTC situation at Brown, I believe it is just another brick in the Simmons Progressive Wall that I hope will fall when she leaves office. Hopefully some balance will be returned to a once outstanding University.

John A. Herrmann Jr. ’62
Williamsburg, Va.



My roommate, Ed Nicholson ’60, was an All American swimmer and captain of the swim team, and today he and his wife Barbara Jones Nicholson ’60 are prominent and faithful alumni. Ed attended Brown only because he received a Naval ROTC scholarship. I am among those alumni who refuse to contribute financially to the university until ROTC is more fully supported. The U.S. military would benefit from having officers from non-military institutions. I have also urged the U.S. government, particularly the Department of Defense, not to make financial grants to universities that reject ROTC participation.  Some of Brown’s faculty might change their thinking if their projects and pocketbooks were affected.

Walter Foley ’60, ’65 MAT
Naples, Fla.

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Related Issue
March/April 2012