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Columbia U. Councils Set Details Of ROTC Forum

This story was written by Lien Hoang, Columbia Daily Spectator

Each of the two upcoming forums on the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps will include six panelists, equally split between supporters and opponents of NROTCs return to campus, student leaders decided in an open meeting Friday night.

Two dozen students representing almost as many campus groups met in Earl Hall to finalize the layout of the forums, which the undergraduate student councils proposed as an informational service for students before they vote on whether to lift Columbia University's ban on the NROTC program.

But by the end of the meeting, council leaders had essentially handed the reins to student groups to select panelists from among their ranks.

As for the content of the forums, we want that to be something groups completely control, said Sarah Besnoff, BC 09 and Student Government Association president.

Like the decision to open the meeting to all students, the choice to hand over power signaled a shift toward greater transparency after council members were criticized for barring interested groups from a Sept. 17 planning meeting.

But despite the greater inclusiveness, Fridays discussion involved most of the same groups as on Sept. 17, possibly because student groups were not notified of the meeting until Wednesday.

The councils have called for the distribution of a survey to all undergraduates that would address whether NROTC should return to Columbia. The University cut off ties with the ROTC 40 years ago as a protest against the Vietnam War, but has since upheld its policy as a statement of objection to the militarys Dont Ask, Dont Tell policy.

The current discussion revolves around NROTC specifically because it is not available to Columbia students, unlike the other branches of the corps, which operate programs on nearby campuses.

On Friday, council members suggested three possible arrangements for the forums: a pro-con version, which would present speakers on either side of the debate before exposing them to audience questions, an issue-based town hall, which would be divided into subtopics relating to NROTC, or a free-for-all, which would give a speaking role to almost everyone who requested one.

Students settled on the first choice, with panelists addressing a list of prepared questions to be established at a later meeting followed by an open mic.

To be frank, this was not the most favored version among councils, but we wanted to have options, Besnoff said.

An e-mail will go out to student groups this week through their respective governing boards. Each group that would like to participate in organizing the panel must respond to the e-mail stating whether they are for or against NROTC, and suggest questions for the forum. That information will be compiled and distributed so students can hold two separate meetings one for and one against NROTCto select panelists.

The forums will take place one week before the mass survey, which is tentatively set for Oct. 26.

In the meantime, students must choose an impartial moderator possibly an official from the student councils, a member of student group Respecting Ourselves and Others Through Education, or a university administrator.

But Peter Valeiras, SEAS 09 and Engineering Student Council president, said the last option is unlikely because we wanted to keep it as student-led as possible.

The administration had been largely absent from the discussion until University President Lee Bollinger sent an e-mail Thursday in support of Columbias decision to remove ROTC from campus.

Regardless of Bollingers position, the motion to reinstate NROTC would likely go to the University Senate if survey results support that action, and from there the decision would be in the hands of the board of trustees.

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