Nobody Asked Me, But...Put ROTC Back in the Ivy League

By Kenneth Harbaugh

Fifty years ago, a significant number of Ivy League graduates joined the military. Today, hardly any do. Restoring ROTC will help to bridge this ever-widening gap, by providing some students with opportunities to serve directly, and providing others with a real connection to those who fight in their place. The military may never again draw a significant percentage of its officer corps from the Ivies, but by having a visible presence on campus, it can provide a critical reference point for America's future leaders.

Reestablishing military training programs at these schools will require more than just a financial commitment. It will require a change in attitude. The bitterness that characterized ROTC's departure four decades ago still lingers. Some in the military harbor memories of that insult. Others cling to its lore, and reject any suggestion that the Ivies are worth re-engaging. But we cannot allow wounded pride to rule this issue. There is too much at stake.

The good news is that students themselves largely reject the anti-military rancor that dominated their campuses during the late 1960s. At Yale, a number of pro-military, student-led organizations now exist, including one that helps undergraduates navigate the process of applying to Marine Officer Candidate School. My students all professed a deep respect for those who chose to serve, even though most lacked a personal connection to the military.

To be sure, reintroducing ROTC will generate controversy. Certain campus constituencies have a vested interest, however misguided, in maintaining the ban. Some groups are reflexively anti-military, but most cite opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. DADT is indeed unjust, but it cannot serve as an excuse for continuing the ban on ROTC. Our military has no choice (nor should it) but to enforce the policies enacted by its civilian leadership. Stiff-arming ROTC is unfair, both to the military and to students who wish to serve. But ending the ban is about more than fairness. It is, ultimately, about the future of civil-military relations.

Naval Education and Training Command should take the lead in reaching out to these schools. The students themselves are ready. As a former ROTC instructor, I taught my midshipmen about anticipating change by leading through it. On this issue, the Navy can either wait or it can lead.

Mr. Harbaugh, a former Navy pilot, taught as a Guest Fellow at Yale and as an ROTC instructor at The Citadel. He currently serves as executive director of The Mission Continues.

Mr. Harbaugh, a former Navy pilot, taught as a Guest Fellow at Yale and as an ROTC instructor at The Citadel. He currently serves as executive director of The Mission Continues.

More by this Author

None found for this author.

Events and Conferences

None found for this author.


Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Fri, 2015-01-16

  Please join us for a Maritime Security Dialogue, featuring: Admiral Paul Zukunft, USCG Commandant of the U.S. Coast...

2015 WEST Conference

2015 U.S. Naval Institute Member Event

Ultimate Skybox at The Diamond View Tower

View All

From the Press

Guest Lecturer & Book Signing

Thu, 2015-01-29

Captain Bernard Cole

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership