Ceremonial Remarks at the Signing of Naval ROTC Agreement
May 26, 2011
Secretary Mabus deserves an enormous amount of credit for
sensitively and persuasively beginning this process of re-establishing
relations between the Navy, the Services and our universities like Columbia,
and I want to recognize him for that.
I’d also like to recognize Secretary Garcia; Dr. Joseph
Hoffman, SUNY Provost; Captain Driscoll, Commanding Officer of ROTC; Captain
Chassee of the USS Iwo Jima; Mike Rothfeld, who is one of our Trustees; Peter Awn,
who is the dean of General Studies and who on behalf of all the deans he speaks
for the importance of this alliance; Sharyn O'Halloran, who is the head of the
University Senate and who really helped lead us to this moment; all the senior
administrators, Susan Glancy who has worked on this—my chief of staff—so
effectively, and especially our student veterans.
It’s important, also, just as a personal note for me to say
that my father, who is 86 years old now—joined the marines in the beginning of
World War II—flew a very small torpedo bomber plane in the Pacific and arrived
on Iwo Jima shortly after the great assault there and all the time I was
growing up I lived the memories of his service in that war and the glass of sand
from Iwo Jima sort of represents that in our family life.
We’re honored to be here on the flight deck of the Iwo Jima
with Secretary Mabus during Fleet Week—an event here in New York which some of
our student veterans have told us actually led to their finding out, through
word of mouth, about Columbia as a place to come to college or graduate school
after their service. Further up the river
on Morningside Heights, we are hosting sessions for
prospective students among the sailors and Marines in the City for this
As many of you know, in recent
years we have welcomed hundreds—literally hundreds—of talented veterans as
undergraduate, graduate and professional students at Columbia, and they have
added to the diversity of experience and perspectives so essential to making the
University a place of intellectual discovery and shared experiences. So I
want to make a special welcome to some of our Columbia Mil-Vet leaders who are
here with us today. We are very proud of
your service and very proud that you are part of Columbia.
We have a President of the United
States (who happens to be a Columbia graduate), a Secretary of Defense, a
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, beside me, a Secretary of the Navy
who have all spoken compellingly of the need to ensure that we bring about a
better, deeper relationship between our military and civilian society,
including our great universities. This
is a message Admiral Mullen brought to Columbia
in a remarkable day in the spring a year ago.
It is a message we have conveyed by our commitment to welcoming so many veterans
to our academic community. And it is a message
delivered last month by our University Senate and supported by our Council of
Deans for bringing ROTC back to Columbia after more than four decades.
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
Now there’s a lot of shared history here. Some of you know—as Secretary Mabus has
pointed out—that Columbia’s long and honorable
history of service includes a Midshipmen’s school for thousands of naval
officers, candidates and the V-12 training program for medical personnel during
World War II. The founding of our School of General Studies,
led by Dean Awn, in the aftermath of the war was in large part to provide a Columbia undergraduate
education to returning veterans. And during the First and Second World Wars,
Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons created and staffed hospital
facilities in Europe for wounded combat troops.
Much of this history and more is told in an interactive Roll
of Honor website, which was launched as part of the dedication of our newest
war memorial—now mounted in one of the pivotal spots on campus, the entry to
Beyond our generations of alumni who have served, there’s
also a notable piece of intellectual history. A key part of our undergraduate Core
Curriculum focuses on issues of contemporary society bringing in classic works
to think about those issues.
That actually began in World War I, when the U.S. Army
faculty to create a course on “War Aims” for the Student Army Training Corps. The goal was not exactly scholarly balance,
but it was an argument for the Allied cause.
As the College dean at the time put it: “Its significance rested on the
fundamental principle that in the long run, man’s accomplishment can rise no
higher than his ideals, and that an understanding of the worth of the cause for
which one is fighting is a powerful weapon in the hands of an intelligent man.” (Today, we would say, of course, “intelligent
men AND women...”)
The key point is that after the war the course soon developed
into a serious consideration of the difficult challenges and responsibilities
of democratic citizenship—and along with Literature Humanities, became a core
of our intellectual tradition at Columbia.
Rigorous cultivation of critical thinking skills—including the
ability to see and understand vastly different perspectives, grapple with
difficult moral choices and ably defend one’s own beliefs—is an essential part
of leadership in our society. Our
service men and women, especially our officer corps, have an extraordinary
responsibility representing our nation in societies around the world. When you consider the complex challenges they
face that call not only for physical courage, but human insight, then it
becomes clear how valuable we believe it is to foster this historic reengagement
of our military and academic community.
We therefore look forward to
resuming formal recognition of Naval ROTC by Columbia after the effective date of
the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and to having Columbia’s future Navy and
Marine Corps-option midshipmen then participate through the NROTC unit hosted
at SUNY Maritime College. We are glad to be part of this partnership.
I have confidence that, with the return of ROTC, Columbia will be an even
more valuable forum for enhancing the relationship between our military and
civil society in the years ahead. Again,
I thank you, Secretary Mabus, for pursuing this historic agreement and I am
proud to be with you and all of you here today.