UMass ROTC taking the lead

By Katie Landeck

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Collegian Staff, Samantha Weber

Over the past five years, the Reserve Officer Training Corps., program at the University of Massachusetts has seen an increase in the number of students enrolling, with this year being its largest class. Currently, there are 47 students participating in ROTC at UMass.

The University has not always seen these kinds of numbers. During the Vietnam War, many colleges removed the ROTC program from their campuses. UMass temporarily discontinued academic credit of courses taught by the Military Air and Science Department in 1972, but then reinstated it in 1973, according to the University website’s history section.

During the war years, the program suffered from decreased enrollment and loss of institutional memory and internal traditions, until interest in the program began to increase again in 1976, according to the program’s site.

Today, enrollment is increasing on the campus.

“I have been thinking a lot about why more students are joining,” said Major Matthew Bachman, who is in charge of enrollment. “A lot of the kids that are joining have a sense of duty to serve. They have been watching the news for the past 10 years and want to do the right thing and support the efforts overseas.”

In addition, the program sees a lot of support from the campus community.

“We have a great relationship with UMass,” said Bachman. “When I walk around, students will approach me to talk about the program in a positive manner. We even have some students who are not involved in the ROTC but participate in our classes and training.”

The program trains students to become Second Lieutenants in the United States Army, emphasizing leadership and training experience.

“These are the future leaders of the army,” Bachman said. “We teach them to be leaders. We push them and test their medal, and when they officially complete the program they feel good about themselves and what they have done. They gain a real sense of accomplishment.”

While enrollment is increasing, 47 members is still only a relatively small sample of the 20,000 students enrolled at UMass. Such a proportion, ROTC enrollment data indicates, is common at universities across the nation.

Nowhere are they more apparent than at Ivy League schools. After the Vietnam War, many of the Ivies did not reinstate their ROTC programs as a means of protesting the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” which bars openly homosexual people from joining the army. Among these schools are Harvard, Columbia, Yale and Stanford, which is not a member of the Ivy League.

Some of these schools offer their students the opportunity to participate in ROTC programs at nearby campuses. As a result, according to an article in the college news Web magazine “Inside Higher Ed,” Stanford and Yale both have zero students in the program.

In recent months, these schools have attracted more and more attention for this policy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke on Sept. 29 at Duke University in N.C., criticizing what he sees as student apathy towards the program. President Barack Obama also made a comment about ROTC’s waning influence recently, stating that he believes it is a “mistake” for universities to not allow the ROTC program on their campuses.

In light of these comments, several universities are reconsidering their stance. According to the article in “Inside Higher Ed,” Stanford has established a committee to consider reinstating the ROTC and Harvard President Drew Faust are considering similar measures if the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is repealed.

These considerations do not necessarily mean that ROTC programs will be reinstated. In May 2005, Columbia University voted on allowing ROTC back on their campus, with the measure rejected by a margin of five to one. They explained their rejection as a consequence of their disagreement with the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.”

Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected]