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From Draft NOtices, July—September 2009


Resistance to ROTC Succeeds at CSU San Marcos

– Linda Pershing


During the 2008-2009 academic year, a proposal to start an Army ROTC program at California State University San Marcos, a 20-year-old campus in northern San Diego County, met with accolades from supporters and strong resistance from students, faculty, and community members who oppose the militarization of schools and universities. Military officials and a sponsoring faculty member withdrew their proposal without explanation when an ROTC Study Group, created by the Executive Committee of the Academic Senate, made the recommendation not to offer the ROTC program on campus. The recommendation was the culmination of a prolonged process of meetings, information gathering, testimony and input from members of the campus community, and a town hall meeting open to the public.

Context is everything. Traditionally, San Diego’s North County is politically conservative and pro-military. Since 2006, Brian Bilbray, a strong supporter of “national security” and anti-terrorism legislation, has been elected twice as the U.S. Congressional Representative in the 50th District, where Cal State San Marcos is located. The military presence in San Diego County is pervasive and goes largely unquestioned, with an estimated 100,000 military personnel stationed at many bases and installations in the area.

ROTC students at Cal State San Marcos currently take their military courses at other local universities, transferring the military science credits from San Diego State University (for the Army and Air Force) and the University of San Diego (for the Navy and Marines).

The proposal to start an Army ROTC Program at Cal State San Marcos originated when Army officials approached the university with the request to offer military science courses on our campus. A faculty member in Kinesiology sponsored the proposal and then dropped out of the process; the proposal suggested routing the ROTC curriculum through the Office of Extended Learning (adult education courses offered to the wider community), rather than an existing academic department. Because the courses were not part of a minor or major degree program, some faculty raised questions about the processes of curricular review and faculty governance that play an important role in creating and assessing academic programs. Another faculty member raised objections to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy and its direct contradiction of the university’s mission statement on non-discrimination. After some discussion, the Academic Senate Executive Committee called for the creation of an ROTC Study Group to gather information, assess the viewpoints of various constituencies, and report back with a recommendation by February 2009 (the process took longer than expected and was delivered in April 2009).

The Executive Committee discussed the composition of the Study Group and agreed that an optimum number of members would be six or seven and that the group would include representation from the faculty, the Veterans and Active Duty Educational Steering Committee, Student Affairs, and the Provost (Executive Committee Resolution 325-07, [April 23, 2008, see Handouts, last page, for the original call to form an ROTC Study Group).

In September 2008, an email message went out to the faculty from the Nominations, Elections, Appointments and Constitution Committee (NEAC), requesting nominations for three open faculty positions on the Study Group (the other members were appointed by the Provost and the Chair of the Senate). The NEAC received the nominations and selected from among the applicants. Designated study group members included: the Associate VP for Academic Programs, the Veterans Affairs and Athletic Compliance Coordinator, one faculty member from the College of Education, and three faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences (Sociology, Women’s Studies, History [Fall 2008, on sabbatical Spring 2009] and Political Science [Spring 2009, as a replacement for the history faculty member]). Originally, student representatives were not included, a situation quickly remedied at the first Study Group meeting, when a student representative from Associated Students, Inc., showed up and asked to participate. After some consternation and debate, the student was included in the consequent process.

The work of the Study Group was often laborious and tense. There were lengthy deliberations about what kind of information to gather, the processes that would be used to find and interpret data, and how to solicit the ideas and opinions of a wide range of constituencies. There was some discomfort among study group members, who held widely divergent positions — from the Veterans Affairs Coordinator, who wholeheartedly supported the proposal to bring ROTC to campus, to the mixed reactions of a gay colleague, who valued his own previous experience in the military but opposed the heterosexism of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy, to my own position as a women’s studies professor who openly opposes militarization, military recruiting, and the ROTC in general. We met weekly or biweekly and gradually created a plan of action. In addition to dividing up various aspects of the issue (e.g., the rationales for starting an ROTC program on our campus; practices and precedents at other college campuses; the legal and ethical issues surrounding the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy; concerns about other types of discrimination in the military; and the legal requirements of the Solomon Act), study members researched particular issues and shared their findings with one another. The LGBTQ Pride Center on campus also hosted a viewing of the film Ask Not (a pro-military movie about the hypocrisy of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy), and most Study Group members, as well as members of the wider university community, attended. Afterward, two leaders from the Pride Center facilitated a discussion of audience reactions.

The study group organized a town hall meeting on campus on February 24, 2009. The meeting was designed to serve as a public forum that would allow people to express a diversity of viewpoints. Respondents were also encouraged to communicate in writing by sending their ideas in email messages to one of the co-chairs of the Study Group. The town hall meeting was widely advertised to students, faculty, staff, and administrators via email and campus bulletins and announcements. The word spread quickly; people across the campus shared the announcement with others, including a range of activists and peace/anti-recruiting organizations in the wider community.

The town hall meeting was restrictive and tightly controlled. The Provost introduced the event, and a college dean opened the meeting by spelling out the ground rules and attempting to establish authority. One big mistake was allocating only 50 minutes -- the time span of the midday “University Hour,” when no classes are scheduled — for the town hall meeting. There wasn’t enough time for the many people who wanted to speak. Another was scheduling the event in a room that was too small to accommodate those who attended. On the day of the event an overflow crowd meant that people had to stand in the back of the room and in the doorways. The ground rules allowed speakers only three minutes, and speakers were given numbers that were then selected randomly to establish the speaking order. Numerous military personnel, who showed up in uniform and sat in groups, seemed to be called to speak one after another, while several peace activists and a father whose son came back from military service in Iraq with brain damage and post-traumatic stress syndrome were not called on during the 50 minutes, creating enormous frustration for those who felt ignored and silenced. The event was moved to a second room after the initial time period, but many participants left to attend classes, and the energy of the event dissipated during the second hour. The testimony was audio-recorded but not video-recorded (with the rationale that visual recording might prevent people from sharing their viewpoints).

In my estimation, the people who spoke against the ROTC proposal were more informed and articulate than those who supported it. They addressed a variety of concerns:

  • the humiliation and injustice of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy;
  • violation of the university’s mission statement and commitment to social justice and anti-discrimination;
  • the effects that the ROTC would have on the campus climate and how some people would feel oppressed by allowing an openly homophobic organization on campus;
  • personal stories about lesbian and gay experiences of discrimination, silencing and violence in the military;
  • statistics and information about the “poverty draft,” recruiting tactics that target poor and immigrant youth and people of color;
  • the frequency and seriousness of sexism and the sexual assault of women in the military; and
  • the military institutional response to downplay and ignore these persistent problems.

Others raised issues about the lack of academic substance and rigor in ROTC courses, as well as concerns about faculty governance and the need for faculty development and review of all curricula.

A range of speakers offered touching personal stories and anecdotes, well-researched statistics, and solid social analysis. From individual students and faculty to members of organizations and activist networks, speakers addressed the ways in which militarism negatively affects individual lives and shapes larger political and social systems, reminding listeners that it is impossible to separate the ROTC question from larger issues of militarization and institutional violence.

The experiences of two other universities, University of California San Diego and Northeastern Illinois University, provided examples of institutions that have resisted the incursion of ROTC programs on their campuses. UC San Diego, much like Cal State San Marcos, does not offer ROTC courses but allows students to take military courses at other nearby campuses and transfer the credits. Focusing on issues of curricula content and academic rigor, the faculty at Northeastern Illinois University recently voted to scale back the Army ROTC program on their campus. According to the catalog, only Section 001 of Military Science 101 and 102 will be offered at Northeastern Illinois University in the Fall 2009. All other sections and military science courses will be offered off campus at DePaul University or the University of Illinois, Chicago or Loyola.

Since there was no consensus among ROTC Study Group members at Cal State San Marcos, each of us wrote one section of the final report, stating our findings. In the end, the majority opinion was that the Army ROTC should NOT be approved at Cal State San Marcos, based on the discrimination of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy and the contradiction of the university’s mission statement and goals. Objections to a lack of faculty oversight of ROTC curricula, or to issues of sexism, classism, racism, and U.S. military imperialism were overlooked or were not taken seriously by most Study Group members. I felt it was important to voice these in Study Group meetings and give them serious attention in my section of the final report, which can be seen at (April 15, 2009, Attachments). For a summary of the study group report and possible actions of the Academic Senate Executive Committee, see the April 22, 2009, Attachments.

The co-chairs of the Study Group presented the recommendations to the Academic Senate Executive Committee in April 2009. Shortly thereafter, Study Group members received email notification that the ROTC proposal had been withdrawn. The email wording was vague, and no further explanation was offered. According to the minutes of an April 22, 2009, meeting of the Academic Senate Executive Committee, the Provost “reported that circumstances led to the originator’s [faculty sponsor’s and/or Army ROTC’s] withdrawal this morning of the currently proposed ROTC curriculum” (, April 22, 2009 Minutes).

The proposal to bring the Army ROTC to Cal State San Marcos has been tabled, without further explanation or clarification. I attribute this to the widespread resistance on campus and in the wider community, and the hard work of activist students, faculty, and community organizers.

Linda Pershing is an associate professor in the Women’s Studies Program, California State University San Marcos

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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