ROTC at Columbia


Posted on September 16th, 2008 by Katherine Franke

Last week when John McCain and Barack Obama were at Columbia to discuss “national service” in a non-partisan way, both candidates criticized the University for failing to reinstate ROTC activities on campus, asserting, as Senator Obama put it, that the University’s policy denies “young people….at Columbia….an option in participating in military service.”

The Naval ROTC program at Columbia ended in 1969 after students successfully objected to the connection between the University and the “military industrial complex” during the height of the Vietnam War.  Part of what sparked the campus riots in 1968 was the discovery of documents in the International Law Library detailing Columbia’s heretofore secret institutional affiliation with the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a weapons research think-tank affiliated with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Since then Columbia students have had the option of participating in ROTC by joining ROTC programs at neighboring colleges and universities while attending Columbia as full-time students (e.g., Fordham and Manhattan). A handful of Columbia students exercise this option every year.

In 2005 the faculty, students and administrators representing their constituencies in Columbia University’s Senate voted against reinstatement of ROTC at Columbia, on grounds that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on sexual orientation violates the University’s long established ban against a presence on campus of any organization that discriminates against individuals on the basis of race, religion, national origin, political preference or sexual preference. To give ROTC a place at Columbia would violate this policy.

I sincerely hope that Obama’s remarks about ROTC at Columbia did not signal support for “don’t ask, don’t tell” or a diminished commitment to the idea of non-discrimination in the military when it comes to gay men and lesbians.  I don’t think they do, but it would be worth it to contact the Obama campaign to reinforce the importance of repealing the don’t ask, don’t tell regulation, and the federal law (known as the Solomon Amendment) that punishes any university that refuses to allow recruiters for the armed forces from recruiting on campus.

Many members of the Columbia Law faculty signed the following letter last fall in response to the presence of military recruiters from the JAG Corps coming to the law school.  We will be circulating a similar letter this fall when the JAG Corps recruiters come again to do on-campus interviews.

We, the undersigned members of the faculty of Columbia Law School, strongly oppose the federal law known as the Solomon Amendment.  Through punitive financial coercion, this law requires the Law School to allow the United States armed services to recruit on our campus through the Law School’s Career Services office.  This recruitment directly violates the Law School’s longstanding non-discrimination policy, which forbids employers from recruiting on our campus if they discriminate based on, inter alia, sexual orientation.  Under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, which bars openly lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals from military service, military employers discriminate explicitly based on sexual orientation.

In March 2006, in Fair v. Rumsfeld , the United States Supreme Court upheld the Solomon Amendment against a challenge based on the First Amendment rights to speech and association. The Court held that law schools could be required to permit military recruiters access to campus, notwithstanding the schools’ non-discrimination policies. However, Chief Justice Roberts, speaking for a unanimous Court, also made clear that “[s]tudents and faculty are free to associate to voice their disapproval of the military’s message.”

Accordingly, we reaffirm our commitment to an educational environment at the Law School that is free from discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, and handicap or disability.  The faculty recognizes with regret the particular harm to which our lesbian, gay and bisexual students will be subject as a result of the military recruiters’ presence on campus in violation of our non-discrimination policy.

JOSÉ ALVAREZ
MARK BARENBERG
GEORGE A. BERMANN
VIVIAN BERGER
BARBARA ARONSTEIN BLACK
VINCENT BLASI
SARAH CLEVELAND
JOHN COFFEE
SHERRY COLB
LORI DAMROSCH
MICHAEL C. DORF
MICHAEL DOYLE
ARIELA DUBLER
HAROLD EDGAR
RANDALL EDWARDS
ELIZABETH F. EMENS
JEFFREY FAGAN
ROBERT A. FERGUSON
MERRITT B. FOX
KATHERINE FRANKE
RICHARD N. GARDNER
PHILIP GENTY
SUZANNE GOLDBERG
HARVEY GOLDSCHMID
JACK GREENBERG
MICHAEL HELLER
CONRAD A. JOHNSON
OLATI JOHNSON
WILLIAM K. JONES
AVERY W. KATZ
JOHN LEUBSDORF
BENJAMIN LIEBMAN
CAROL B. LIEBMAN
LANCE LIEBMAN
EDWARD LLOYD
LOUIS LOWENSTEIN
GILLIAN METZGER
CURTIS MILHAUPT
EBEN MOGLEN
KATHARINA PISTOR
ANDRZEJ RAPACZYNSKI
ALEX RASKOLNIKOV
JOSEPH RAZ
PETER ROSENBLUM
CAROL SANGER
BARBARA A. SCHATZ
ELIZABETH SCOTT
ROBERT E. SCOTT
WILLIAM SIMON
MICHAEL I. SOVERN
JANE SPINAK
JANE STAPLETON
PETER L. STRAUSS
SUSAN STURM
KENDALL THOMAS
MATTHEW WAXMAN
PATRICIA WILLIAMS
JOHN WITT
TIM WU
MARY ZULACK

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