Letter to the editor | ROTC History

Michael Friedlander | Letter to the editor

Dear Editor,

Sasha Fine’s (Oct. 12) report on ROTC recalls a time of great tension at Washington University. There is reference to this in the quote from a current student: “The last bad thing that happened was [in 1970] when the ROTC [building] was burned down.”

For several years, there had been a growing protest, at many universities, against the Vietnam War. Students faced the prospect of being drafted after graduation. There was a student occupation (a “sit-in”) in Brookings Hall.

The campus ROTC became the focus of many anti-war demonstrations, and its building, close to what is now Forest Park Parkway, was burned. Responding to a call one morning, 50 members of the St. Louis County Police, in riot gear, appeared on the campus. At the request of Chancellor Thomas Eliot, the police left the campus. (Student Life, March 27, 1970) One student was convicted of throwing a fire-cracker (a “cherry bomb”) but fled from Missouri before being sentenced.

The faculty addressed some of the issues, initially through the Faculty Senate Council, which comprises the elected representatives of the University-wide faculty. The Senate Council meets regularly with the chancellor and is the most important link between the administration and the faculty. The Council can make recommendations to the administration, and it reviews all proposed policy that affects faculty.

I was chairman of the Senate Council during 1969-71, at the time of the anti-war protests when the Council adopted a resolution which was subsequently adopted by the Senate, consisting of all full-time members of the faculty. The Minutes of the Senate contain this entry:

“Resolution adopted at a meeting of the Senate, April 14, 1970.

The Senate reaffirms its support of the principle that courses awarded credit by any division of the University should be taught or evaluated by personnel whose appointment has been approved by an academic dean.

The Senate urges the Chancellor to explore whether it is feasible, consistent with the principles of Paragraph One and in consultation with the University Senate, to insure that ROTC courses be available to Washington University students who wish to participate in the program.

The Senate condemns acts of violence, vandalism and disruption by members of the University community or others and urges the Administration to take firm action to curb such acts in accordance with properly established judicial procedures, internal or external.”

It must be noted that at that time, three units of academic credit were awarded each semester to students in the ROTC courses.

The recommendations were followed by the administration of Chancellor Eliot. Thus ROTC is still available but without academic credit. The core of the resolution is the requirement that “courses…should be taught or evaluated by personnel whose appointment has been approved by an academic dean.” ROTC instructors are not appointed by the University after an open search (as now required for faculty appointments), and the content and evaluation of the ROTC courses are not subject to the normal academic review.

Michael Friedlander

Professor of Physics