In the fall of 1919, the Reserve Officers Training Corps was established at the University. Following on the heels of the “war to end all wars,” the new program struggled to gain enrollment, but, after a push by this very newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, and the University President, John Hibben, participation in ROTC surged. With the Vietnam War, however, student activists pressured the University into effectively banning ROTC from campus. Yet the ban was lifted within the year —well before other Ivy League universities followed suit. Army ROTC was swiftly reestablished in 1972. This past week, the University announced that Navy ROTC will finally return to campus next fall. We, the Board of the ‘Prince,’ once again support ROTC at Princeton and so laud the recent decision. Nevertheless, ROTC programs at Princeton could be better integrated with the University: First, by granting University course credit for ROTC classes, and second, by permitting non-ROTC University students to take those classes.
Participating in ROTC at Princeton is a major time commitment. Unlike participation in a varsity sport, ROTC entails not only physical training but also coursework. All ROTC cadets must take Military Science and Leadership courses that, at present, bear no University course credit. This can prove challenging for cadets to balance these courses with the weight of ordinary classes and other extracurricular involvement. The simple and sensible solution would be to return University course credit to ROTC classes (as had been the case prior to 1969), assuming, of course, that University faculty deems the courses sufficiently rigorous as to warrant it.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Peter Knight, director of the army officer education program, the University administration has been receptive to the idea of reinstating course credit, so long as there is a “support network for such courses” to ensure continuity; that is, the ROTC officials would teach the courses in conjunction with permanent Princeton faculty members. Such integration would maintain the consistency and rigor of these Military Science and Leadership courses over time so that the University could grant course credit. This would help ease the current burden on ROTC cadets.
With official University course credit and instruction by permanent Princeton faculty, there would be no reason to exclude other non-ROTC Princeton students from enrolling in these classes; indeed, there is good reason for other students to consider taking them. Many Princeton students go on to serve the nation in policy-making capacities that have direct effects on the military (e.g., working in the Department of Defense). For this reason, students hoping to serve in such ways would do well to be educated about the American military establishment. Opening ROTC courses to ordinary Princeton students would further these ends.
The University should encourage students seeking to offer their service to the nation by doing what it can to facilitate their education. Closer cooperation between ROTC and the University would make participation in ROTC more manageable and would allow non-ROTC students to become more familiar with our nation’s military. Indeed, the return of Navy ROTC to Princeton aligns well with the University’s unofficial motto: "Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations." Knight put it better than we ever could:
“At Princeton University, whose students dedicate themselves in a multitude of capacities ‘in the nation's service, in the service of all nations,’ those students who seek to serve in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard do so by choice for a noble cause and not simply for a scholarship. At the end of the day, the people who are in ROTC are there because they want to be. Those are the kind of people we want. Here at Princeton, I am willing to bet that we have a healthy number of people who seek to contribute in some way to the noble calling to which we answer. Those students deserve to choose which branch of the Armed Forces they want to serve in and do so in a way in which they best serve our nation and the free world. I welcome our sister services back to Princeton and view this development as one that will greatly benefit Princeton University, our nation and, ultimately, the world.”