Forty years later, ROTC still controversial with faculty and students

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The last time the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps — an armed services program that trains officers in colleges across the United States — was at CUNY was in 1971, when anti-Vietnam War protests lead them out of the University. Earlier this year, the ROTC was reinstated into CUNY and slowly entered campuses.

Their “host program” will be City College while York College, College of Staten Island and Medgar Evers College are listed as “partners.” CUNY’s board of trustees permitted the reinstatement of the ROTC, with former Chancellor Matthew Goldstein pushing for their reinstatement.

There is still resentment within CUNY to the reinstatement of ROTC. The ad hoc committee against the militarization of CUNY was formed partly due to the ROTC’s return to CUNY.

“The [ROTC] program is being revived at CCNY, York, Medgar Evers and the College of Staten Island. ROTC was ousted from CUNY in 1971 after widespread protests against its role recruiting and training officers for the U.S. war in Vietnam that killed an estimated 3 million Vietnamese,” the committee’s flyer read.

Maj. John Green, assistant professor of military science at City College, said the process occurred between CUNY management and ROTC and elaborated on the definition of “leadership” the ROTC uses on their section of the CUNY website.

“Leadership is the ability to provide purpose, help motivate while completing the job and making the organization and world better,” Maj. Green said.

According to an ROTC fact sheet posted on CUNY’s website, the ROTC “produces 75 percent of all Army officers.” Additionally, it remarks that the “ROTC is one of the best leadership programs in the country.”

Sándor John, Hunter College adjunct professor of Latin American studies, partially blamed the reinstatement of the ROTC on the influence of American Enterprise Institute.

The AEI is a think tank that is “committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise,” according to their website.

John said that the AEI wrote a paper in May 2011, “Underserved: A Case Study of ROTC in New York City,” which was “written by a former researcher for the speechwriting office of the White House under George W. Bush and features an introduction by a retired Army general.”

“The AEI report called for ‘taking full advantage of [the] large, ethnically diverse populations’ in NYC and CUNY in particular, stating that the military should ‘make restoring ROTC to the Northeast and urban areas a priority.’ Complaining that ‘the Army does not have a single ROTC program in the twenty-three-campus CUNY system,’ the report made it clear that establishing ROTC at CUNY was a high-level priority for U.S. rulers,” John said.

John criticized the ROTC by stating they were targeting “working class, immigrant, African American and Latino youth” to join the program. He further explained that there would be a “push-back” as recent protests against Petraeus, which are linked to the reinstatement of the ROTC, showed the vocal anger of the demonstrators.

Students without Borders, a Queens College group affiliated with the ad hoc committee, responded to the arrival of Gen. Petraeus and the reinstatement of the ROTC by saying they did not feel the ROTC was needed in an educational setting within CUNY.

“Thanks to the anti-war movement that ensued during 1970’s, CUNY has been freed of ROTC and police recruitment stations.  We want to keep it that way and have CUNY be a place where students are focused on learning and are not funneled towards becoming agents of imperialism,” their statement read.

For Maj. Green and the rest of the ROTC, their priorities lie with the opportunities of the ROTC rather than the controversy surrounding it. For instance, he praised the ability of ROTC students to “multitask” and viewed them as potential leaders.

“We are not seeking students to join ROTC,” Maj. Green said.  “We provide ROTC to those students seeking to learn more about leadership and whose path to a leader may be in the military service or the civilian workforce.  The students in CUNY — both in ROTC and those who are not — are an amazing bunch and I have no doubt, are the future leaders.”

Brandon Jordan

Brandon is a senior majoring in Political Science and Economics with a minor in Business And Liberal Arts. He covers labor and activism at CUNY. He also likes to cook, bake, run and make puns, sometimes not in that order. You can follow him on Twitter @BrandonJ_R and email him at brandon[at]

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