Interestingly enough, Columbia’s own Barack Obama has publicly supported the inclusion of ROTC programs on college campuses, going so far as to say that he would enforce the Solomon Amendment, a federal law allowing the Secretary of Defense to deny federal grants to schools that ban ROTC or prevent military recruitment, a stance that he shares with his former rival Hillary Clinton and current opponent John McCain. In a world in which even the political left has publicly voiced support for ROTC and the future of the American military, how long will so many of America’s institutions of higher learning continue to fail their students and the United States? At what point will the moral imperative of service apply not only to the programs of social justice and outreach that Bollinger has praised, but also to the very mode of service that has secured the free and open society in which these programs operate?
Admittedly, the machinations that would allow ROTC to return to a place like Columbia are myriad and complex, but that does not mean that Columbia cannot be immediately proactive in fostering a climate that is friendly towards the idea of military service. In recent years Columbia has courted the veteran population with the promise of G.I. Bill funding in mind and has had great success in drawing a number of them to its General Studies School, a move to be applauded. Why not apply similar initiatives to its other undergraduate schools, such as offering scholarships or tuition reduction to students enrolled in military training programs? Even small gestures, such as waiving the Physical Education requirement for students involved in training could have a positive cultural impact at Columbia. Columbia has sat idle for forty years, stubbornly leaving the defense of our country to others and those few Columbia students who have seen beyond the foolishness of the university, and it is well past time for a change.
For Columbia’s undergraduate students, much of their required education, known as the “Core,” revolves around the study of ideas and their power to transform the world including, interestingly enough, the idea of civic duty. Students are immersed in the work of great thinkers throughout history and asked to understand how and why they had an impact upon the world we live in today. Simply put, students are taught that ideas matter. The idea of military service matters in a truly vital sense because the act of service matters in a highly practical sense. The future of the United States depends upon more than just the men and women of the military, but this country cannot survive without the military and as such the military deserves the best and the brightest of our generation. Columbia, too, owes a debt of service, and it would do well to remember so.