By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Uncle Sam has a message for Columbia University: thanks, but no thanks.
Even if the Ivy League school asks the Army's Reserve Officers Training Corps to return to campus after sending it into exile 42 years ago, it's unlikely the military training program would launch a new program at Columbia, an Army ROTC spokesman told DNAinfo.
"Army ROTC would certainly entertain the request, just like we would from any other school, but right now, there are no plans to expand," said ROTC spokesman Mike Johnson of the U.S. Army's Cadet Command, which oversees ROTC, at Fort Monroe, Va. "We're in a constrained resource environment. It's safe to say we don't have any plans to start any new programs."
The university, which ousted ROTC during the Vietnam war, has been engulfed in passionate debate about whether to invite the military training program back to campus.
The Ivy League school drew national headlines — and condemnation — when students heckled an injured Iraq war vet at a recent public forum.
The university senate's task force on military engagement is expected to release its recommendation on ROTC on Thursday or Friday, with the full senate to vote on the issue in the coming weeks.
But that vote could be meaningless.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently outlined plans to reduce the size of the Army, Johnson said, and that will likely mean downsizing for ROTC, which has a mandate to produce 5,300 officers a year.
"If the mission is going down, meaning the number of officers (ROTC must produce) is going down, why would we expand?" Johnson explained.
It's been several years since the Army started a new ROTC program. The most recent was in 2006 at Texas A & M University's Corpus Christi campus.
In the future, if the Army does add new ROTC programs, it's likely they'll go to schools that can produce officers that fit the vision of an officer corps that "looks like America," Johnson said.
The Army wants to diversify its officer corps to match changes in the country's population as a whole, meaning it's looking for more Latino officers, Johnson said. It also wants recruits who have backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Johnson said.
Columbia students are allowed to participate in ROTC, but they have to commute to Fordham University to do it. About nine Columbia students are ROTC cadets.
If Columbia invited ROTC back to campus, the school would still have to clear several hurdles before the program could be implemented, Johnson said.
The ROTC's brigade commander would review the request with the following factors in mind:"market potential, student interest, faculty support and whether the school would be able to provide facilities we require," Johnson said. In addition, Columbia would have to be willing to grant the head of the ROTC professor status, he said.
ROTC also prefers schools that will produce 12 to 15 officers a year, Johnson said.
The university senate, a 108-member governing body made up of students, faculty, and administration, voted in 2005 to keep ROTC off Columbia's campus, in part because of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Now that Don't Ask Don't Tell has been repealed, the senate is revisiting the issue. Some students have protested ROTC's potential return to campus, arguing that the military "preys on" low-income communities and discriminates against transgender people.