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ROTC Forums At Columbia U. Cut To 1 Before Undergraduate Vote

This story was written by Lien Hoang, Columbia Daily Spectator

One debate -- not two as originally planned -- will prepare Columbia University studentsfor the upcoming survey on the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, student council members said Monday.

The forum will be Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. It willcover three subtopics: Dont Ask, Dont Tell, academics and finances. Each section will feature one speaker for either side of the NROTC debate one in support of its reinstatement and one against for a total of six speakers, before the floor is opened up to the audience for questions. Don't Ask Don't Tell is a policy that bans openly gay men and women from serving in the military.

The identity of the speakers had not been decided or at least had not been announced as of Monday night. Though members of the four undergraduate councils have also been heavily involved in the planning, student groups on both sides of the issue have been charged with picking the forums speakers.

As recently as Sunday night, Adil Ahmed, CC 09 and Columbia College Student Council Vice President for Policy, told his council peers that there would be two forums, one Wednesday at Barnard, and the other Thursday at Columbia. But the four council presidents had met the previous Thursday, leaning toward a single forum because they were unable to find space on Columbias campus, whereas Student Government Association President Sarah Besnoff, BC 09, had already booked Sulzberger Parlor for Nov. 19. Realizing that they would not be able to reserve space in time, the organizers ultimately decided to consolidate the forums.

Unlike Columbia students, Barnard students have already received details about the survey by e-mail including the date and the question posed, which organizers now say will read Would you support bringing a Naval ROTC program to Columbias campus at this time? The survey will be released for at least one week starting Nov. 24, but the student government will keep it available until 55 percent or more of Barnard students participate.

Besnoff said that one forum will be enough and that shes excited it will take place at Barnard, where the space has been reserved for two months. I think this is an example of the success of collaboration, Besnoff said.

Though hinting at the challenges of the group effort, Ahmed said at Sundays council meeting, Planning the forum has been frustrating.

We said wed work together on it, he said, referring to all four councils.

Perhaps the greater split is among undergraduates, whose opinion on the issue is difficult to predict. Most agree that the federal governments Dont Ask, Dont Tell law is discriminatory, and many concur with the universitys policy that this is enough reason to maintain the ban on NROTC. ROTC programs have actually been banned from campus since 1969 long before Don't Ask Don't Tell when the university removed them to protest the Vietnam War.

The group Columbia Students for NROTC held its own event on College Walk yesterday, offering passersby a script to call and petition congress members to repeal the policy.

Justin Johnson, SIPA 10, is a member of the group, and said despite opposing the policy, he would vote to bring back NROTC because it would draw more open-minded and affluent students to the military and because the government, not the military, is to blame for Don't Ask Don't Tell.

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