ROTC classes to count for credit: ArtSci reverses decision made in Vietnam era
When sophomore and cadet Connor Eulberg approached Dean Jen Smith last fall to ask why the College of Arts & Sciences didn’t offer credit for ROTC courses, he didn’t anticipate it would take 20 months to receive an answer.
For the first time in 44 years, students in Washington University’s largest undergraduate division will receive credit for ROTC courses starting in the fall, following a 28-17 vote at an Arts & Sciences faculty meeting Friday.
Another Faculty Senate vote, held on April 14, 1970, prohibited the College of Arts & Sciences from granting credit for ROTC courses. Throughout Friday’s meeting, faculty members referred back to that decision in questioning its potential ramifications on the University’s educational independence and academic mission.
Administrators intend the change to make Washington University more appealing to students of various socioeconomic backgrounds, who might choose to participate in the Army ROTC program to pay for their college educations. High school students can apply for four-year ROTC scholarships that cover tuition and fees and also include book allowances and living stipends; current college students can apply for two- or three-year scholarships.
“These students will have an opportunity to get higher education somewhere—this is a selfish thing in a way,” Smith said. “We’re trying to increase our own socioeconomic diversity by recruiting them here and not putting an additional burden on those students, where they have to carry these credits on top of the 120 that they would need to graduate.”
“Welcoming people from lots of different backgrounds is what we’re here to do, and this is an important part of it,” Provost Holden Thorp added.
When the resolution is enacted, students will earn a total of 16 credits over their four years in the program—one credit each for the 100- and 200-level courses students take their first two years, and three credits each for the 300- and 400-level military science courses they take their final two years. The upper-level courses will count toward a student’s GPA, and the others, which the Curriculum Committee considered less academically rigorous, will be pass/fail.
ROTC courses will count toward the 120 total credits students need for B.A. degrees but not the 90 that they need from Arts & Sciences courses—similar to classes taken in other divisions, for-credit internships and physical education classes.
In order for military science courses to retain accreditation, any significant changes to the courses will have to be approved by the Curriculum Committee, and new professors will have to be reviewed and approved by Barbara Schaal, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences.
Doug Chalker, chair of the Curriculum Committee, said these requirements were imposed to address the concerns that led to the Faculty Senate’s 1970 decision, where many expressed concern that the Department of Defense was appointing its own faculty.
The 1970 decision followed a December 1968 resolution by the faculty of Arts & Sciences to end the University’s contract with ROTC and withdraw credit from those classes.
Some of these concerns were brought back to light at Friday’s meeting.
“What is at issue here is the independence of the faculty to protect itself against decisions made from outside the faculty,” Michael Friedlander, who was chair of Faculty Senate Council during the 1970 decision, said.
“These things are not devoid of politics…there are all sorts of symbolic attachments to a resolution like this,” Friedlander added.
While most concerns with accrediting the ROTC program centered on the question of oversight, some also raised issue with awarding University credit for the material taught in military science classes.
“I have to admit that I’m a little concerned about offering academic credit for things like learning fundamental military concepts,” history professor Andrea Friedman said. “I fully believe that we should contribute to creating good citizens who can exercise good leadership, but I’m just not sure that those are academic subjects that ought to be given academic credit.”
“I do think there’s a question about teaching leadership skills versus teaching ways to kill people,” she added.
For some in attendance who had previously served in the U.S. Military, the debate was over notions of the military off-base with reality. Joe Ackerman, a chemistry professor who previously served in the U.S. Navy, said that he didn’t even understand what the discussion was about.
“I think anything Washington University can do to make sure that the officer corps in the U.S. military is the best there is, we should jump on that opportunity,” Ackerman said. “And this is the opportunity we have today.”
Major Derek Martin, a junior instructor with the Gateway Battalion, which includes the Washington University ROTC contingent, insisted that the content of ROTC courses is not wholly determined by Department of Defense (DOD) direction.
“What you’ll find is outcome-based teaching, which means we have a lot of flexibility on our own side on how we get the cadets, and each cadet is different, to the endpoint of being a leader,” Martin said.
Nancy Berg suggested that should the resolution encourage increased interest in the University’s ROTC program, the change could not only increase diversity in the University but in the military as well.
“It gives us an opportunity to reach even just a few future members of the military and maybe for those of us in the humanities, in the non-Anglo-American traditions, to teach them about cultures that they may not otherwise know about or even to promote the development of critical thinking,” Berg said.
The School of Engineering and Applied Science currently allows students to petition to receive credit for ROTC courses. Eulberg, who initiated the effort to grant credit for military science classes, said the next step will be to get the other schools to also grant ROTC credit.
Eulberg first proposed the re-accreditation of ROTC courses to rectify what he saw as a flawed system that discouraged possible cadets from matriculating and burdened current cadets with a bloated course load. When he first approached Dean Smith about the topic, he found that the issue was not even on many administrators’ radar.
“Nobody asked, and if they did, they didn’t ask the right people,” Eulberg said.
He pulled in support not only from administrators but also from the military science department, which saw the potential for accreditation to increase interest in the University’s program, which has suffered from decreased enrollment in the past several years.
Participation in the University’s ROTC program is currently at 12 cadets, down from the several dozen cadets it saw in previous decades. But that number will increase to at least 18 in the fall.
“We have an unprecedented eight freshmen who are coming in on full scholarships,” Eulberg said. “They won’t even realize this burden that they’ll no longer have to bear, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate how much easier their lives are.”
The faculty decision followed a resolution passed unanimously by Student Union Senate earlier this month urging the University to offer ROTC credit in each undergraduate division.
Freshman and SU senator CJ Harrington, who authored the SU resolution, was alerted to the issue last semester by one of his friends who participates in ROTC. He said the resolution was a meaningful way to urge faculty to overturn an outdated policy that continues to negatively impact students.
“Times have changed a lot,” Harrington said. “The army and ROTC…may not be perfectly in line with everyone’s views, but I don’t think anyone’s egregiously against them and what they’re trying to do in protecting our country.”