Campus bigotry a social threat
By GLENN HARLAN REYNOLDS
My daughter is looking through college-recruitment materials, and pretty much all of them go on at great length about "diversity." To judge from the brochures -- not only the text but also the relentless photos of ethnically diverse students in various settings -- it's apparently the single most important thing that any institution of higher learning can offer.
But though the photos contain representatives of almost every group imaginable, I don't see any students in military uniform.
That's because most of the "high-end" schools mailing us bulletins don't offer ROTC -- a failure of diversity that just attracted comment from Defense Secretary Robert Gates
In a recent speech at Duke University, Gates noted that, since the end of the draft and the growth of the volunteer army, America's military has grown increasingly distinct from those who view themselves as our nation's intellectual leaders.
Gates chose Duke for his speech, presumably, because it's one of the very few top schools to offer multiple ROTC programs. Elsewhere -- at Harvard, for example -- ROTC has been banished for decades.
Although Harvard expelled ROTC over the Vietnam War four decades ago (after antiwar students burned down the ROTC center), it now gives as a reason for not reinstating the program the military's adherence to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- though that program was instituted under President Bill Clinton, who has not been similarly barred from the Harvard campus.
Nor has Harvard Law alumnus Barack Obama, who has maintained the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," policy -- and who has urged Harvard to end the ROTC ban.
President Obama's other alma mater, Columbia University, booted ROTC from its campus in 1969 and also hasn't reinstated it. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who tortures and imprisons bloggers and other critics, is welcome at Columbia but not a program to train officers for the US military.
Yet the campus ROTC bans aren't just a reminder of the political pettiness that still plagues America's "top tier" universities; they also have serious costs for the nation.
As Gates noted, those who fight and die in America's wars come disproportionately from the South and the West, not the Northeast, and from small towns, not big cities. They also come, disproportionately, from less elite colleges -- something that wasn't the case in the pre-Vietnam era.
A military that grows estranged from large parts of the civilian world is a bad thing. It is also a bad thing when large and influential parts of the civilian world -- the universities that advertise that their graduates will be calling the shots in business and government -- grow estranged from the military that defends them.
As even a brief glance around the globe demonstrates, when the military-civilian relationship goes bad, everything else goes bad along with it.
Yet Gates argues, surely correctly, that the two worlds are drifting apart. And it seems clear that this isn't a case of the military's rejecting Harvard, Columbia, et al. -- but rather the reverse.
In short, we have a diversity problem. And as we know, when there is a diversity problem, virtually any degree of government intrusion is justified to set things right. For the moment, the tool of choice is moral suasion -- but that may change.
Under the Solomon Amendment, Congress has already forced universities not to discriminate against military recruiters on campus, a law upheld by the Supreme Court (rejecting some rather weak First Amendment claims on the part of academic institutions). There seems no reason why Congress couldn't go further and simply require universities to offer ROTC programs on campus.
This wouldn't be much of a departure: The original Morrill Act, establishing land grants for higher education, required recipient institutions to offer military training. Nowadays, virtually every institution of higher learning receives federal funding, directly or indirectly. (And there may be no need for a connection to funding: If the feds can draft individuals for the defense of the nation, there seems no reason why they can't draft institutions, too.)
Expansive federal powers to solve social ills are widely supported at our "top tier" universities, and we have reached the point where virtually everything is potentially subject to federal control: Witness New York City, which the feds are forcing to replace every single street sign, to the tune of $27 million, so that the street names will be in upper- and lower-case letters, rather than the traditional all caps.
If the federal government can do that, it can surely act to integrate our institutions of higher learning, even if their leaders choose to stand in the schoolhouse door.
After all, what's more important than promoting diversity?
Glenn Harlan Reynolds teaches law at the University of Tennessee and hosts "InstaVision" at PJTV.com.