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.