Reinstating ROTC Programs May Not Be So Simple

fromWNPR

Some elite colleges and universities say they are seriously considering President Obama's call to reinstate ROTC programs on their campuses. Many elite institutions dropped the programs during the Vietnam War, and cited the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy as a barrier to bringing them back. Now that Congress has voted to repeal the policy, students and faculty say they are willing to support ROTC, but its return may not be that simple.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on colleges and universities to reinstate the Reserve Officer Training Corps on their campuses. Some elite schools haven't had ROTC chapters since the late 1960s, but the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell could open the door.

As Diane Orson, of member station WNPR reports, many students at Yale think bringing back ROTC is a good idea.

DIANE ORSON: Yale student Katherine Miller says President Obama's message is clear: The military is becoming more inclusive, and that means she'll be able to pursue her dream of a career in uniform. Miller left West Point last year and transferred to Yale because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly.

Ms. KATHERINE MILLER: When I entered Yale, I had an environment where I knew that I could be myself in. You know, I didn't have to hide my sexuality. I didn't have to, you know, pretend to be someone that I was not.

ORSON: Miller is among only a handful of students at Yale actively pursuing a military career. The school hasn't had an ROTC unit on campus since the early 1970s. Cadets travel to satellite programs at other schools for their training. The military left Yale and many Ivy League institutions at the height of the anti-Vietnam War protests. Later, Yale struggled with the Department of Defense over its policy on gays and lesbians.

But now, with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, many elite schools are in serious talks with military officials about bringing ROTC back.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller.

Professor MARY MILLER (Dean, Yale College): What we also have been doing is looking very closely at how other institutions that we think of as similar to Yale, how has ROTC unfolded in recent years on their campus.

ORSON: But ROTC's return is not a sure bet. For one thing, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell has not as yet been implemented. And the military may not be that enthusiastic about opening additional detachments. There's the question of cost.

And Colonel Ray Pettit of U.S. Army Cadet Command in Virginia says the military has to consider student interest.

Colonel RAY PETTIT (U.S. Army Cadet Command, Virginia): One of the downsides with respect to getting the leadership from Ivy League schools is that generally, those students will perform their required service to the Army and tend to get out of the Army at a higher rate than non-Ivy League students do.

ORSON: Yale's governing council recently surveyed interest in ROTC in the wake of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal.

Twenty-year-old junior Jeff Gordon.

Mr. JEFF GORDON: Almost 70 percent of students would support the return of the program, given the repeal.

ORSON: Law school Student Yaman Salahi is not among them. He says ROTC culture does not belong in a university environment.

Mr. YAMAN SALAHI: The military is not a neutral force. And ROTC is not a neutral force. It ignores the fact that there's a tremendous amount of violence being committed by the military in the name of the American people.

ORSON: But former West Point cadet Katherine Miller says that tension may ease as the military starts to better reflect the nation it serves.

Ms. MILLER: Military service is something that a lot of people are interested in, initially. You know, and because Yale doesn't offer that, I don't think people get to see that.

ORSON: And having bridged both the military and elite college cultures, she says each side has a lot to gain from working with the other.

For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven.

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