What do we all go to college for? Depending on who you ask, you may receive a myriad of different answers from wanting to learn about diversity or the world around us, to making friends, or even because we secretly enjoy the thrill of finals week. Ultimately, however, we come here to get a degree and to receive an education that will prepare us for a future in the real world. Available to students nationwide are a variety of services to help make that transition to the world outside of academia; colleges and universities across the country offer services like career counseling, job fairs, grad-school prep, internships, and ROTC. ROTC, or the Reserve Officers Training Corps, is a two to four year program that is designed to help students who wish to become officers in the US Military after they graduate. Think of it as an internship for students interested in a military career; a college student can take military science classes for two years before they are asked to make a commitment of service. If you take the classes and decide that this is a career path that you wish to take, you can “contract.” Once you sign the contract, you can receive scholarships and a monthly stipend to help pay for your education.
Over the years, ROTC has come under fire and has been long removed from many of our country’s most “esteemed” universities. But why would the country’s top universities deliberately deny their students access to this simple career development and scholarship program? And, if academic freedom based on the idea of having free access to a limitless variety of classes and topics, why would a university purposefully ban the study of military science? The answer is the same as the answer to so many other questions: politics. In the 1960’s and 70’s, protesters against the Vietnam War were able to force their schools into removing the programs because they did not agree with the war, and consequently the military. After the war however, student governments needed a new reason to justify the ban on ROTC; this was given to them in the 1980’s when the Department of Defense began discharging homosexuals and again in 1993 under the Clinton Administration when Congress signed it into a federal law. But now, with the repeal of “Don’t ask Don’t Tell”, opponents of ROTC are scrambling to create new rationales for banning students from being able to part in this career development class.
In a recent edition of the UCSD newspaper The Guardian, Allison Gauss seemed to be jumping from excuse to excuse as to why we should continue UCSD’s moratorium on ROTC. She acknowledges that fact that Harvard and many other Ivy League schools are restoring ROTC programs now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed and that the Vietnam War has long since passed into history books. Gauss’s first attempt at a rational excuse is that military science courses do not meet the educational standards of the UC system. At this point, it becomes apparent that she has never attended a military science class. She quoted Barton Bernstein, a Stanford academic, describing military science as having “the intellectual depth of a high school freshman course.” It appears that Gauss and Bernstein have this perception that all servicemen fit the stereotype of a dumb grunt that does as he is told. As a recent UCSD alumni, I look back on ROTC as some of my most mentally challenging classes in college. These classes are not like the typical lecture hall classes that we have become so accustomed to where we sit in class, nod our heads when the professor looks at us, and then memorize a bunch of facts for finals. In ROTC, military science classes are six hours a week of class time plus 2 hours a week of physical training. For three of those six hours, students are taught theory and tactics, as well as military organization. For the other three hours, students go to MCAS Miramar to put to practice the skills they learned in class, often in the form of squad tactics exercises, or STX lanes, where the students are put in situations where they have to develop their leadership and communication skills to get their squad through the situation. The main lessons that cadets take away from being a squad leader are how to create a plan, communicate that plan, and execute that plan under pressure. This is a lesson that you will never learn in the lecture halls of UCSD. While military science does not delve into the theories on why war happens (the realm of political science), students are instead presented with a close examination of how to fight a war. ROTC is more than just the concepts of offensive and defensive tactics; it is a class on communicating, thinking under pressure, and most of all leadership.
If UC San Diego is serious about preparing its students for whatever career they chose, allowing students to get the most financial aid they can, and having a free and open academic campus that recognizes all areas of study, then UC San Diego should welcome ROTC programs back to our campus in support of the US military and in support of our fellow students who wish to join the military.
Matt is a senior in Eleanor Roosevelt College majoring in Political Science.