Yale – ROTC Agreement

May 27, 2011

Yale University has announced it will once again host an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) Program.  This follows similar announcements an a number of other colleges and universities who are also again welcoming ROTC with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

There’s a major difference in the Yale announcement, however.  As the Yale announcement says, “This agreement stands out because Yale will host an ROTC unit on its campus for classes and training, as opposed to making new arrangements with partner ROTC schools.”

As I said before when Harvard approved returning to a ROTC Program, discrimination against homosexuals isn’t the only issue.  Another  important one has to do with who makes the academic decisions, the university (its Faculty) or the military?

The difficult question has to do with who gives credit for ROTC courses.  ROTC isn’t just a student activity.  Accepting an ROTC chapter isn’t like accepting a Hillel or Newman program on campus: space and appreciative recognition for students who participate in extra-curricular activities.  ROTC is an educational program in which courses are taken and credits are earned.  There is an issue about whether ROTC broadly accepts the basic commitments of a university — like full compliance with a non-discrimination statement.  But there are also, and just as important, issues around what the credentials are of those who teach ROTC courses, who hires and evaluates them, who approves the courses for which credit is given.  Will these matters be wholly in the hands of Harvard University, to make decisions through its authoritative governance procedures?  Or will there be (as there often was at the time ROTC became an issue on many campuses back during the Vietnam War) a shared governance arrangement where the military has a share in making the decisions about faculty appointments and approval of curriculum.

Harvard didn’t have to face this issue because their agreement has them cooperating with other universities, and those other universities will be the ones warranting the credits; Harvard will just recognize them the way they transfer in credits from other institutions for other purposes.  But the Yale agreement appears to involve an arrangement whereby it will be Yale itself awarding the credits.

And so the question remains: whose oversight will warrant the quality of those credits?  The university’s Faculty? or the Pentagon?

In Sweezy v. New Hampshire, a famous 1957 Supreme Court case, Justice Felix Frankfurter laid out important principles about universities.  To carry out their essential missions, he argued, they must be able to determine for themselves on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.  ROTC agreements compel us to consider these four freedoms.  Does the Yale-ROTC agreement respect the four freedoms?

Just to pick a passing example, notice the upset in the CUNY Faculty over a recent decision by CUNY’s Provost about transfer of credit within the CUNY system between two and four-year institutions.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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