Columbia U. Debates Bringing Back ROTC

This story was written by Lien Hoang, Columbia Daily Spectator

At a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, student leaders discussion about the possible return of Reserve Officers Training Corps to ColumbiaUniversity digressed into another issue who exactly should be included in student-body talks.

The Columbia administrations long-standing refusal to allow ROTC programs on campus came under renewed assault last week when, at a nationally-televised campus event, U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both spoke out in opposition to the controversial policy.

Sunday night, Columbia College Student Council Vice President for Policy Adil Ahmed, CC 09, announced a new protocol which will permit students from all four undergraduate colleges at Columbia to hold referendums to advise the University Senate and Board of Trustees of their positions on heated issues. That move was widely viewed as paving the way for a vote this semester on Columbias official stance on ROTC.

The newest push to revisit the ROTC policy was spurred by engineering students who have expressed frustration that the naval ROTC a route, they say, to recouping college loansdoesnt operate a program in Manhattan. Early advocates of the ROTC referendum were University Senator Monica Quaintance 10, Columbia College Student Council class of 2011 President and Spectator film editor Learned Foote, and EngineeringUniversity Senator Rajat Roy 10. The new vote protocol was authored by Ahmed and Engineering Student Council President Peter Valeiras,09.

Wednesday evenings event brought together umbrella organizations, including cultural and political groups, student councils, the Student Governing Board and the Activities Board at Columbia in an attempt to clarify the policy.

But the meeting itself was overshadowed by complaints from certain student groups that they were excluded from the discussion.

Ryan Kasdin, co-president of Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, attended the meeting but was asked to leave along with Foote because the organizers decided that it wasnt fair to includethegroupwhen others that had also wanted to join were not allowed.

Although the Columbia Queer Alliance partook in the meeting, fellowEveryone Alliedpresident Ira Stupsaid just one group could not represent the seven unique LGBT groups on campus.

Kasdin and Stup drafted a response letter during the meeting and handed them to participants when it adjourned.

There is an unfortunate parallel between the silencing and discriminatory nature of the Dont Ask, Dont Tell policy implicit in ROTC and the forced exit of an LGBT advocacy group from a meeting about an issue of such personal and acute importance to our community, the letter stated.

The criticism marks a larger tension among groups excluded from the talksspecifically, some say, those with an anti-war stance.

Its problematic that groups who have a stake in the issue werent involved, said Johanna Ocana, president of Lucha. She said she e-mailed a request to attend the meetings but was told to check with the United Students of Color Council and the Student Organization of Latinos.

Ahmed handled the e-mail invitations and said that there was no intention to leave out anti-war groups, but that the meeting was just meant to work out logistics, not talk politics.

I cant say it was the best decision or the easiest decision, Ahmed said. It just worked out somehow. It was a diverse array of groups there.

Valeiras said the meeting centered on planning the process of an ROTC survey that, according to Ahmed, would probably go out to students within six weeks.

The results from the survey, which would ask students whether they believe RTC should have a place on campus, would be presented to the University Senate who will then make the final decision.

After the gathering, participants declined to give specifics, instead referring Spectatorto the minutes taken by Scott St. Marie, ABC treasurer, who would transcribe his notes and send them to those in the meeting for review, before sending them out to media on a future date.

Ahmed also declined to give specifics, saying they figured out the what and how for the coming survey though questions have not been finalized as well as planned two forums to precede it.

Other groups will present their views on ROTC at the forums, Ahmed said. Hopefully, their voices will be heard.

But by choosing to dismiss media, meeting leaders prevented students from sharing their opinions and were very intentional in their secrecy, Kasdin said.

Stup added, Keeping the meeting manageable is one thing, but keeping it from people it affects is mismanagement.