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December 21, 2010 4:09 PM Yale Courts ROTC, Again

By Daniel Luzer

With the repeal of the military’s controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on sexual orientation expected for early this week, Yale announces that it’s considering bringing a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program back to campus. According to an article by Mary O’Leary in the New Haven Register:

Yale President Richard C. Levin, in a statement Monday night, said the university was “eager to open discussions about expanding opportunities for students interested in military service, and we will be discussing this matter with the faculty of Yale College in the spring semester.”
In the meantime, he has directed General Counsel Dorothy Robinson, Secretary Linda Lorimer and Yale College Dean Mary Miller to talk with military officials about their interest in establishing an ROTC unit on the Ivy League campus.

As the United States entered the First World War in 1917 Yale established its first Army ROTC programs. The school maintained and expended such programs until the Vietnam War, when things got awkward.

The problem had to do with the war and the quality of the ROTC classes. It had nothing to do with sexual orientation issues. Back in the 1960s, anyone in the military “found to have a homosexual or bisexual orientation while in-service would now receive an ‘undesirable discharge.’” Anyone actually found having homosexual sex would be dishonorably discharged.

But Yale never worried about that. Yale historian Gaddis Smith described how Yale got rid of ROTC in a piece he wrote for the 1952 fiftieth reunion class book, Time and Change:

The presence of the Reserve Officer Training Corps programs was (in 1968) the key Vietnam issue at Yale and elsewhere. Since 1917 ROTC…had been an academic anomaly, providing credit toward the Yale degree with courses of slight intellectual weight taught by officers with courtesy faculty rank but slight teaching experience. By happenstance, a review of ROTC on academic grounds by the Yale College faculty coincided in 1968 with a campaign by leftist students to expel ROTC altogether. The outcome was the adoption by the faculty and the Yale Corporation in 1969 of a new set of conditions for the continuation of ROTC without academic credit or faculty rank for the military and naval instructors. The Pentagon said no deal—and ROTC departed.

Many schools had active ROTC programs until the 1970s, when they banned ROTC programs from campus. The reason for the ROTC ban was because, explicitly, ROTC courses weren’t academically rigorous. The implicit reason, however, was that the presence of ROTC cadets created turmoil on many campuses during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam led many students to question the legitimacy of the military itself because students saw the war as both unnecessary and ineffective. Merely seeing people wearing uniforms could trigger unpleasant campus interactions.

Well we’re still losing our wars, but apparently that, and the academic rigor problem, is no longer so troublesome for colleges. So full speed ahead.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer