Columbia University’s president boarded the USS Iwo Jima Thursday to sign a new deal that will allow the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps back onto the Manhattan campus. NY1’s Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
After four decades with no formal relationship, Lee Bollinger, Columbia’s president, signed an agreement with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to reestablish an ROTC Program.
"It is good for Columbia, it is good for the military, it is good for our country," said Rabus.
Columbia has a famously complicated relationship with the armed forces. In the 60s, the campus was a hotbed of anti-war protests. In recent years, however, the university has taken a leading role in embracing veterans, several hundred of whom are currently enrolled.
Yet like many leading universities, it took the December repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for Columbia to seriously consider allowing ROTC on campus. The law had forbidden people who are openly gay from serving in the military:
“Which made it impossible for universities to fulfill our own personal commitment to equal rights,” said Bollinger.
Secretary Mabus did not mention the controversial law in his prepared remarks. When asked, he acknowledged the significance of its repeal.
“That we are now moving to full repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ allows us to reestablish these relationships with places like Columbia, and I think it is very important that the military represent the society it defends,” said Mabus.
On April 1, the Columbia University Senate, which includes students, faculty, and staff, voted 51 to 17 to allow ROTC back. Those who opposed the reestablishment said there is still strong opposition on campus.
“We are against the idea that students have to go behind the barrel of a gun to get access to a quality education,” said alumna Daniela Garcia.
On the other hand, students and alumni who are also members of the armed forces said the partnership will benefit both institutions.
“ROTC is that vehicle that bridges the civilian/military divide,” said student Jose Robledo.
“The Columbia campus was a front in the culture wars, if you will,” said Dan McSweeney, a Columbia alumnus who serves in the armed forces. “And for this to be happening means some level of resolution is occurring.”