Watch video of the signing ceremony, held aboard the USS Iwo Jima. (18:12)
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger today signed an agreement of their intention to reinstate Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) programs at Columbia for the first time in more than 40 years. The agreement was signed at a ceremony onboard the USS Iwo Jima, docked in New York for the Navy’s annual Fleet Week.
“NROTC’s return to Columbia is good for the University, good for the military, and good for our country,” Secretary Mabus said. “Together, we have made a decision to enrich the experience open to Columbia students, make the military better, and our nation stronger.”
Under the agreement, first announced on April 21, the NROTC program will have an office on Columbia’s campus and active duty Navy and Marine Corps officers will meet with Columbia NROTC midshipmen during routinely scheduled office hours. Navy and Marine Corps-option midshipmen will participate in NROTC through a unit hosted at SUNY Maritime College in Throgs Neck, NY.
Columbia will resume full and formal recognition of NROTC after the effective date of the repeal of the law that disqualified openly gay men and lesbians from military service, anticipated to come later this year. On April 1, Columbia’s University Senate passed a resolution by a vote of 51-17 welcoming “the opportunity to explore mutually beneficial relationships with the Armed Forces of the United States, including participation in the programs of the Reserve Officers Training Corps.” The University’s Council of Deans similarly supported Columbia’s reengagement with ROTC.
Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus sign the agreement.
Image credit: Michael Dames/Columbia University
“Rigorous cultivation of critical thinking skills—including the ability to see and understand vastly different perspectives, grapple with difficult moral choices, and ably defend one’s own beliefs—is an essential part of leadership in our society,” said President Bollinger. “Our service men and women, especially our officer corps, have an extraordinary responsibility representing our nation in societies around the world. When you consider the complex challenges they face that call not only for physical courage, but human insight, then it becomes clear how valuable we believe it is to foster this historic reengagement of our military and academic community.”
During their introductory remarks, Sec. Mabus and President Bollinger each added a point of notable personal history. The Secretary revealed that he received his own Navy commission at a ceremony held on Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus 42 years ago. President Bollinger shared the fact that his father was a Marine in the Pacific during the Second World War who arrived at Iwo Jima shortly after the famous battle there.
In the months ahead, University Provost Claude M. Steele will establish a committee of faculty, students and administrators to oversee implementation of the ROTC program consistent with Columbia’s academic standards and policies of nondiscrimination. Columbia’s Army and Air Force ROTC participants will continue to train with other New York-area students at consortium units hosted at Fordham University and Manhattan College. During the 2010-11 academic year there were nine Columbia and Barnard College students participating in these units.
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 in 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.