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Who Speaks for Columbia Students?

4:29 PM, Feb 21, 2011 • By CHERYL MILLER
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Today, the Columbia Spectator stated its support for renewing the university’s ROTC program and urged students to vote “yes” in the university Senate’s ongoing survey.

Who Speaks for Columbia Students?

The editorial is a good read – and a welcome sign that not all Columbia students share the anti-military sentiments of the protesters who heckled Iraq war veteran and freshman Anthony Maschek at a student forum. (Listen to audio of Maschek’s remarks and the student response here.) Indeed, the number of emails from students and faculty submitted to the Senate Taskforce are overwhelmingly in support of ROTC. (I count 48 in favor and a mere 14 against.) Other students and faculty – including the president of the College Democrats – have also spoken up for ROTC.

This isn’t too surprising. Student opposition to ROTC was largely (and supposedly) premised on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and had long been waning. A 2008 student poll – which was framed by faculty and student opponents as a referendum on DADT – found the undergraduate body nearly split. Majorities at the School of General Studies and the engineering school – likely the students with the greatest interest in a military career – voted for ROTC’s return. Earlier that year, the Columbia Spectator editorialized against the ROTC ban even without the repeal of DADT. Likewise, a 2005 taskforce on ROTC deadlocked, 5-5, and none of the members agreed with the statement that ROTC should not return under any circumstances.

In short, there are plenty of good reasons to be optimistic about the outcome of the student vote – and to be cautious about judging all Columbia students by the disgraceful actions of a few. ROTC opponents might hiss and hurl epithets, but they are attracting the wrong kind of attention to themselves – and their university. Before the ROTC survey comes to a close this Thursday, Columbia students should make clear who does – and who does not – speak for them. 

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