“In recent years Columbia has proudly welcomed hundreds of talented veterans as undergraduate, graduate and professional students,” Bollinger said. “Some continue to serve in the Reserves; others are now ROTC members. They have greatly enriched the diversity of life experience and perspectives that make a university a place of intellectual discovery and their example gives me confidence that our campus can be a forum for further enhancing the relationship between our military and civil society.”
In addition to Columbia’s growing community of student military veterans, more than half of whom attend the School of General Studies, the University in recent years also dedicated a new War Memorial prominently placed in Butler Library. The memorial includes an interactive Roll of Honor website that lists the names of all known Columbians who lost their lives in the nation’s military service going back to the Revolutionary War.
The School of General Studies has taken a leading role in Columbia’s university-wide participation the Yellow Ribbon program of education benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans, some 340 of whom are currently enrolled at Columbia. The school was originally founded after World War II in part to provide a Columbia undergraduate education to veterans and other nontraditional students.
The University has a long history of educational programming with the U.S. military and the Navy in particular. Beginning in 1942, Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus served as a Midshipmen’s School that trained more than 20,000 officer candidates for duty during the next four years. Columbia was also a site for the Navy’s V-12 programs, which trained doctors and dentists for military service. A third program, the Military Government School, was established to train a cadre of naval officers to handle the administration of occupied territories.
Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons created a hospital in Europe to minister to the wounded, following U.S. troops first to England and later to France, sometimes operating in hospitals behind the lines and at other times in tents nearer the front. It had provided a similar service during World War I. In 1942, the medical school organized the Second General Hospital on the Washington Heights campus to treat soldiers and sailors who were sent home due to the severity of their wounds. At the end of the conflict, many veterans enrolled in the University with support from the G.I. Bill of Rights. Other veterans resumed academic careers as members of the faculty or joined the administrative ranks of the university.
In recent years this relationship has developed in many ways. In April 2010, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen began a national speaking tour focusing on civilian-military engagement and veterans’ issues with a day at Columbia that included a visit to the new war memorial, a luncheon with student military veterans and a public World Leaders Forum moderated by President Bollinger.
On Veterans Day in November 2010, with approval from the University Senate, Columbia student military veterans and current ROTC students began weekly honor guard ceremonies for the University’s American flag in front of Low Memorial Library.
“The University Senate provided an open and transparent process for multiple voices in the Columbia community to be heard on the issue of reinstating ROTC,” said Sharyn O’Halloran, chair of the University Senate and professor of political economy. “The overwhelming final vote reflected a strong consensus that the time has come for Columbia to reestablish relations with the ROTC in ways that both maintain our academic values and allow the university to play a productive role in educating the nation’s next generation of military leaders.”
President Bollinger’s email:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:
After many months of campus discussion, open forums, and a strongly favorable vote in the University Senate, together with consultation with the University’s Council of Deans, it is clear that the time has come for Columbia to reengage with the military program of ROTC, subject to certain conditions and with ongoing review. Accordingly, I am announcing today that after four decades Columbia again will recognize ROTC on campus through an agreement to reinstate a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) program at the University.