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What's The Rush? Columbia President Bollinger Signs New Agreement With the Navy

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Last Thursday, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger stood on the deck of the U.S.S. Iwo Jima with the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, and signed an agreement to bring NROTC (Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps) back to Columbia after an almost 40 year ban. President Bollinger's formalization of an on-campus relationship with the Navy was enabled by a University Senate vote lifting the on-campus ban on ROTC and authorizing the President to explore the expansion of ROTC at Columbia.

The University Senate's consideration of ROTC this year was mired in controversy, not merely due to the controversial nature of further militarization of Columbia's campus, but also on account of the irregularities in process itself. The Ad Hoc Senate Committee set up to explore lifting the ban was led by faculty and students who strongly supported bringing ROTC back to campus, and outside advocacy organizations played a role in the strategies and tactics of the Committee, likely violating Senate rules. More on this here.

At a minimum, Columbia should have waited to enter into a new agreement with the Navy until after DADT had been fully repealed and the military had agreed to adopt non-discrimination policies that conform to those adopted by Columbia University, including protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.

President Bollinger's remarks on the deck of the Iwo Jima last week were a disappointment for several reasons, but perhaps most notably for the fact that he said the following:

The civilian and military leaders of our armed forces took a courageous role in ending the policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which made it impossible for universities to fulfill our own personal commitment to equal rights and equal opportunity. This was a great step forward for America's ongoing journey in fulfilling its highest ideals -- providing equal rights for all citizens.

He should know better -- he's a lawyer, after all. The DADT policy has not been repealed, nor is the federal government even close to doing so. Indeed, according to the law passed by Congress, DADT will continue to be in effect until the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense are able to notify Congress that the implementation of training is completed to their satisfaction. They have not indicated when they will do so.

What is more, the current House version of the National Defense Authorization Act includes provisions that are specifically intended to obstruct the intended complete repeal of DADT. The Pentagon has also insisted, and the White House agreed, that the DoD and respective services will not include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes under the general EEO policy. With respect to Columbia's relationship with the Navy via NROTC, the DoD would thus not be be in compliance with Columbia's non-discrimination policies.

I was disappointed to read of President Bollinger's misstatement of the law and to learn that we have lost an opportunity to use Columbia's considerable prestige to influence changes in the Pentagon's on-going discriminatory policies before entering into an agreement to bring NROTC back to campus.

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