Capabilities and Capacity: ROTC at Columbia University and the Quadrennial Defense Review

“America’s men and women in uniform constitute the Department’s most important resource. Prevailing in today’s wars while working to prevent future conflict depends on the Department’s ability to create and sustain an all-volunteer force that is trained and resourced to succeed in the wide range of missions we ask them to execute.” (p 49)

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is the Secretary of Defense’s “capstone institutional document” that establishes the “policy and programmatic foundation that will enable the next generation to protect the American people and advance their interests.” (QDR p 97) The QDR’s guidance in reshaping the military responds to the demand “America’s Armed Forces rapidly innovate and adapt—the Department’s institutional base must do the same” (p xiv) in a “complex and uncertain security landscape in which the pace of change continues to accelerate.” (p 5) The QDR is clear that readying the force for the challenge requires “innovative programs to attract qualified young men and women into the Armed Forces” (p xii) and reforming how military leaders are developed.

Columbia University, with its gifted students and rich combination of first-tier university and New York City resources, offers an ideal partner for ROTC to “recruit personnel with specialized skills” (p 51) and “ensure . . . officers are prepared for the full range of complex missions” by “enhancing these skills . . . during pre-accession training.” (p 54) Recognizing officers need greater academic breadth and depth to be “better prepared to assume the responsibilities of waging war, peacekeeping, stabilization, and other critical missions carried out by our military” (H.R. 5136 p 5), the Department of Defense has already responded with the Alternative Commissioned Officer Career Track Pilot Program to facilitate their advanced education. In the same vein, cultivating an officer corps with the capabilities identified by the QDR necessitates the best possible intellectual foundation for military leaders. The Department of Defense, therefore, has a compelling interest to produce officers with greater capacity and a strong academic grounding in the formative pre-accession (cadet) stage of their development. ROTC at Columbia meets that need.

As it does today, much of the weight of future missions will fall on young officers. In the short term, Columbia-educated lieutenants and captains who developed broader capabilities and capacity as cadets will be better equipped to “rapidly innovate and adapt” to unpredictable challenges. Over the long term, their strong academic grounding will lead to commensurately greater acquisition of capabilities and capacity growth over the course of their military careers. The QDR’s forecast of politically sensitive efforts using smaller numbers of both special operations and general purpose forces (QDR pp 28-30) further emphasizes the growing need for individually exceptional officers.

Where the QDR seeks to ensure “educational institutions have the right resources and faculty that can help prepare the next generation of military leaders” (p xiii), Columbia provides “one of the world’s most important centers of research and at the same time a distinctive and distinguished learning environment for undergraduates and graduate students in many scholarly and professional fields.” (Columbia University mission statement) Where the QDR describes a heightened need for a full spectrum of engineering, scientific, medical, computer, foreign language, regional, cultural, and other skills, Columbia offers excellent programs in all those areas within a full spectrum of world-class academic departments. Beyond the university’s abundant resources for cadets, Columbia “recognizes the importance of its location in New York City and seeks to link its research and teaching to the vast resources of a great metropolis.” (CU mission) For Columbia, ROTC graduates fulfill the university’s expectation of alumni “to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level and to convey the products of its efforts to the world.” (CU mission)

ROTC will be home at Columbia. Columbia has the largest population of student-veterans in the Ivy League and alumni group Columbia Alliance for ROTC has the express purpose of supporting ROTC at Columbia. Growing calls to restore ROTC on campus have come from students, professors, alumni, campus organizations and publications, and university leaders. After years of dormancy, Columbia is reviving its long military tradition, reminded by the martial memorials spread around campus. Columbia’s famous Core Curriculum, required for College undergraduates, was designed as a classical foundation for officer education. The standard-bearer for Columbia officers is founding father Alexander Hamilton and his lifetime of visionary, innovative leadership in and out of uniform. The Alexander Hamilton Society, the campus group for cadets and officer candidates, invokes his heritage.

Columbia is New York City’s premiere university, and there would be substantial symbolic value for the military in the return of ROTC to the Columbia campus. Moreover, a ROTC program at Columbia would solve the military’s absence of ROTC within Manhattan, which has poor access to ROTC despite hosting the highest concentration of college students in the country. Near Columbia are Barnard College, a premiere women’s college, and City College, GEN Colin Powell’s alma mater and the flagship CUNY.

The QDR concludes “[t]he challenges facing the United States are immense, but so are the opportunities.” (p 97) With the establishment of a ROTC program at Columbia, the military has the opportunity to form a valuable 21st century partnership with a global flagship institution in New York City.

* Go to Part II: Needs of the Nation.

Posted on 28 Jun 2010


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5 thoughts on “Capabilities and Capacity: ROTC at Columbia University and the Quadrennial Defense Review

  1. […] skills in general purpose force officers during pre-accession training.” As Eric Chen noted in a previous Secure Nation post, New York City offers a breadth of resources in these areas that are unmatched elsewhere in the […]

  2. […] I, Capabilities and Capacity, framed the gifted students and exceptional resources of Columbia University and New York City as […]

  3. […] is much for both the universities and the military to do to bring about this ROTC+ vision, a theme discussed in some detail by recent Columbia graduate and Army veteran Eric Chen.  Universities should extend their high […]

  4. […] that the two sides deal with each other in good faith, are motivated by compelling interests and tangible benefits, and judge Columbia ROTC by a standard that favors Columbia’s institutional strengths. The […]

  5. […] is much for both the universities and the military to do to bring about this ROTC+ vision, a theme discussed in some detail by recent Columbia graduate and Army veteran Eric Chen. Universities should extend their high […]

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