By Jill Colvin
MANHATTAN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on Columbia University to reinstate its ROTC program after a 42-year absence on campus.
Columbia, like other schools, had long objected to the program because they argued that the military's controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy amounted to discrimination.
But now that the policy has been repealed, Bloomberg said it's time to bring the program back.
"I think Columbia should — my personal opinion, I can't tell Columbia what to do — but they should open an ROTC program and give the kids the alternative," the mayor told WOR's John Gambling during his weekly radio sit-down.
"ROTC is a good thing for a lot of students," Bloomberg said, referring to the Reserve Officers Training Corps.
Last week, Anthony Maschek, 28, an Iraq War veteran who earned a Purple Heart and is now a freshman at the school, was jeered by fellow students at a town hall meeting about the possibility of bringing ROTC back after its ouster in 1969.
The ordeal, which has become known as "Hecklegate" on campus, sparked a national firestorm of criticism, with pundits and online commentators painting the school as a hotbed for anti-military sentiment.
Bloomberg defended the hecklers' right to protest, but cautioned that students often say things they later regret.
"The bottom line is this is a guy that deserves an enormous amount of respect. These kids had the right to do what they did because he went overseas and put his life on the line," he said.
"These kids that are protesting? My advice to 'em? Don’t join," he said.
Columbia students are currently allowed to participate in ROTC, but must commute to Fordham University's facilities in the Bronx and at Lincoln Center.