With his signature last week, President Obama ended the military’s distasteful policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In doing away with this discriminatory practice, he also ushered the American armed forces back into the mainstream of American life. One salutary consequence is that some of the nation’s most prestigious universities now are willing to host Reserve Officer Training Corps units on their campuses, ending a decades-long standoff between the country’s educational elite and its military.
Many campuses dropped ROTC during the 1960s and ‘70s as student and faculty objections to the war in Vietnam mounted and protesters viewed the program as offering assistance to a discredited military engagement. The end of that war and of the draft softened objections at some campuses, but they were reignited in recent years over the military’s policy of discriminating against gays and lesbians. Colleges that forbade discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation understandably were reluctant to allow an organization that explicitly engaged in such discrimination to operate on campus.
As a result, however, the gap between America’s elite universities and its largely poor and minority military grew ever wider, with unhappy implications for society as a whole.
With the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” several leading universities moved quickly to close that gap. Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust called the action historic, saying it affirmed “American ideals of equal opportunity and underscores the importance of the right to military service as a fundamental dimension of citizenship.” Faust added that she was “pleased that more students will now have the opportunity to serve their country.”
At Columbia, President Lee C. Bollinger said the repeal “effectively ends what has been a vexing problem for higher education, including at Columbia ― given our desire to be open to our military, but not wanting to violate our own core principle against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
ROTC may not be right for every university campus ― indeed, interest at some schools is so low that the military itself may not want to return to them. But it highlights the significance of ending the ban that the nation’s military and social values no longer collide. That alone is progress.
(Los Angeles Times, Dec. 30)