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University reopens question of offering credit for ROTC classes

| Senior News Editor

A student’s Facebook post published last fall has reopened a decades-old dialogue about whether ROTC students should receive credit for their courses.

The conversation comes as the campus’ almost century-old battalion struggles for visibility and recruits as the program looks to move past the specter of controversial wars and discriminatory policies.

The complete ROTC program includes a military science class every semester, workouts three mornings a week and lengthier training multiple weekends each month. The complete academic program, focusing on tactical leadership and strategy, is equivalent to 22 credit hours over four years, but Washington University does not award credit for the classes.

Prompted by a student’s post on Dean Jen Smith’s Facebook page last fall, the College of Arts & Science’s curriculum committee is currently investigating the issue and plans to decide in coming months whether to recommend the issue of credit for a full faculty vote.

Michael Tabb | Student Life
The issue has been pushed aside for several months as the committee focused on Semester Online, but Smith said she hopes to get to it later this semester. The decision to stop offering credit for the program was made in the midst of dramatic anti-Vietnam War protests that culminated in two campus ROTC buildings being set on fire in spring 1970. As far as Smith is aware, this is the first time the University has formally considered awarding credit for ROTC classes since.

Sophomore and second-year cadet Connor Eulberg, who brought the matter to Smith last fall, said that while students already interested in the program may not need the credit, ROTC often mirrors their academics in terms of demands.

“ROTC students not receiving credit, to some extent, makes it harder for Wash. U. students to see the benefit of pursuing participation in Army ROTC,” Eulberg said. “If ROTC students were to receive even as much credit as a varsity sport, one credit a semester, that could help draw students to the program.”

ROTC classes are not awarded credit because of a Faculty Senate resolution adopted in April 1970, which stated that courses cannot be awarded credit by any division of the University if they are not taught or evaluated by a dean-approved faculty member. ROTC became a convenient symbol of the war abroad, and thousands of local demonstrators joined growing student protests against the program.

Decades later, the controversies, combined with the program’s headquarters being pushed back to North Campus, have contributed to the program’s ongoing struggles with visibility and student interest.

The University only has 12 cadets currently in army ROTC, about 10 percent as many as it had in the mid-1960s, according to ROTC Office Manager Gary Lee. ROTC offers multiple full-tuition scholarships, but none of the students to be given four-year awards ended up coming to the University this year.

Provost Holden Thorp said it is a lost opportunity to build the school’s socioeconomic diversity. Over time, he hopes to further integrate ROTC with the College of Arts & Sciences.

“I think there’s interest in figuring out how Washington University can do a better job of partnering with the military, and this is a piece of that puzzle,” Thorp said. “At a lot of places, you see Arts & Sciences play an active role in ROTC.”

Current cadets and instructors in the program think that offering credit for military science classes would bring in students interested in ROTC but not looking to make the full commitment from the onset.

“They don’t get academic credit for the military science courses, so they’re taking an additional semester, basically,” Lee said. “Even if they’re not totally interested in the military, some academic credit, I think, would make them at least interested in taking the class.”

If the faculty of Arts & Sciences were to decide that ROTC courses warranted credit, the credits would count toward graduation but not distribution requirements and would not go toward any major or minor programs unless those departments decided to accept the credits.

But the decision to stop awarding credit for the classes was not entirely antiwar posturing, and concerns voiced in 1970 that the University has no means of keeping ROTC courses up to standard continue to resonate decades later.

Michael Friedlander, professor emeritus of physics who began working at the University in 1956 and was heavily involved in the Vietnam-era discussions surrounding ROTC, said the academic concerns about offering military science for credit remain unchanged.

“The intellectual and academic freedom of a campus hinges on the faculty making certain kinds of decisions and nobody else,” Friedlander said. “That doesn’t exist with ROTC. There’s no way the Department of Defense is going to let a bunch of liberal faculty choose the ROTC officers. It’s not going to happen.”

The 1970 Faculty Senate resolution followed a 1968 resolution by the faculty of Arts & Sciences to end the school’s contract with the military and de-accredit the classes as soon as possible.

In the late 1980s, the University’s ROTC program also became a focus of national controversy when James Holobaugh, an army cadet, came out to his officer as gay out of concern that the consequences would be more severe should he be outed after formally commissioning. He was not only kicked out of the ROTC program, but ROTC considered making him pay back his scholarship, though they later decided against it.

The controversy highlighted discord between the University’s anti-discrimination policy and the military’s, but the school ultimately opted to maintain its ROTC program.

Sophomore and second-year Cadet Matthew Brice said he would appreciate receiving credit for ROTC but noted it would not affect his personal interest in the program, which he said gives him a strong sense of purpose even when he gets up for 6 a.m. workouts.

“It would definitely make my course load easier, but going in I knew I wasn’t getting credit, and that didn’t sway me either way,” Brice said.

  • Michael C. Sevcik

    1. Michael Friedlander, comments such as: “The intellectual and academic freedom of a campus hinges on the faculty making certain kinds of decisions and nobody else,” AND. “That doesn’t exist with ROTC. There’s no way the Department of Defense is going to let a bunch of liberal faculty choose the ROTC officers. It’s not going to happen.” This is not a logical argument? Would you care to explain why and importantly, why choosing ROTC officers his even relevant to this issue?

    2. The issue of gay ROTC cadets has NOTHING to do with the Army or Army ROTC policies. The United States Congress establishes law and policy for DoD regarding gays in the military (1980s) and the repeal of DADT more recently. These congressional policies are approved by the POTUS and the US military has for over 200 years — faithfully support and defending the US Constitution. The protest against ROTC by this outdated policy is a red herring today as it was in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam war.

    3. One would think that in an academic institution with the reputation of Wash U, the faculty would have an idea of how the constitution and public law works. Not discriminate against their ROTC students who are working hard to balance tough Wash U academic expectations and a rigorous ROTC curriculum imposed on them by the Army.

    4. Finally, the Big 12 accreditation committee which governs Wash U’s academic rigor has had NO problem with several dozen other universities and colleges that give ROTC credit to their students….for many years!

    Provost Thorp, Dean Smith and the Wash U faculty leadership would do well to listen to the logic and superb arguments spelled out by ROTC Cadet Connor Eulberg. Thank you.