Columbia, ROTC, and Sexual Orientation

Letter from President Lee C. Bollinger to the Editor of The Wall Street Journal

Published May 17, 2005

Your May 11 editorial “A Tale of Two Columbias” takes issue with the Columbia University Senate’s vote last week not to re-establish an on-campus ROTC program. After acknowledging that reasonable people can differ over the military’s prohibition on openly gay and lesbian servicemen and women, the editorial goes on to suggest that those of us who disagree with that prohibition are anti-military, and to question our motivations.

My vote was based on a serious concern for the integrity of the university in the face of the federal government’s use of the power of the purse to force institutions to compromise their principles. I think there should be an ongoing conversation between the government and the nation's universities about military recruitment and ROTC. The government, unfortunately, has put an end to the discussion by threatening to withdraw funding to force compliance with existing policies.

Our Senate’s vote reflected a consensus of the ColumbiaUniversity community – after a year of discussion of the issues by students, faculty and administrators – that the university should stand by its nondiscrimination policy. This policy forbids, among other things, any form of discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. The university has an obligation, deeply rooted in the core values of an academic institution and in First Amendment principles, to protect its students from improper discrimination and humiliation.

I believe the men and women who serve our country in uniform deserve our utmost respect and support. I also believe they and all Americans deserve a military that does not discriminate invidiously against any individuals who volunteer to serve and sacrifice for our country.

I am sure that, in time, the same sensibility that led us to end racial segregation of the military will eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation, too. When that happens, I believe the tensions between our universities and our military will largely disappear.

Lee C. Bollinger
President of ColumbiaUniversity
New York