March 31, 2022

BEARD | Service Before Self

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The Cornell community has always been keen to espouse its support for its military members and veterans. The University’s first president and a Civil War veteran, Andrew Dickson, understood the importance of moral-minded military leaders and led the creation of a Corps of Cadets. More recently, Cornell started a student-veteran co-op and endowed scholarships supporting these former service-members. Yet, in spite of this long-standing tradition of supporting the military community, dating all the way back to the institution’s founding, today’s administration displays an almost shocking indifference to the academic experience of the University’s large officer training corps and the future generation of military leaders who currently call Cornell home. 

This institutional indifference towards ROTC amounts to a total academic ignorance of these programs by the Cornell bureaucracy. Early into each semester, I get an email from the dean of Arts & Sciences, indicating that I am enrolled in a certain number of courses that “do not count for credit.” And each semester, these courses have the same classification code, AIRS, which denotes all Air Force-mandated classes for Cadets. 

What this means is that none of the classes on my schedule for the Air Force program can be taken to count toward the 120 credit hours needed to graduate in the College of Arts & Sciences. This is the case for all students affiliated with the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines. One to two classes a semester may not seem like a lot, but across my four years this adds up to 24 credit hours. In other words, in order to even graduate, I will be forced to take 144 total credit hours to make up for the 24 phantom credits so I can meet both the college’s standards and the obligations of my Air Force contract. This is a burnout-inducing problem that I share with many of my peers across the ROTC community at Cornell. One with neither an appeal process nor sympathy from the University’s administrators.

It is important to dispel the notion that administrative indifference is a niche problem felt by a small group of students. Cornell’s Tri-Service ROTC Brigade constitutes a large portion of our student body and its cadets and midshipmen represent the similarly diverse backgrounds of the student body itself. Like the University’s recognition of military service, officer development has been an integral part of the institution since Ezra Cornell first uttered the words “any person, any study.” Since the school opened its doors in 1865, military training has gone hand in hand with academics. Training and drilling were even made mandatory up until the Vietnam War. While we’ve certainly departed from the time of compulsory service, today’s ROTC is the legacy of that foundational tradition. The hundreds of us that constitute the brigade’s membership should not be viewed in isolation from our University’s traditions, but instead as representative of the connection between the past promises of our founders, Cornell’s institutional ideals and the future of military leadership. 

The failure of the registrar and faculty to recognize the academic weight of military training is a disgrace not only to the historic principles of Cornell but to the individual students themselves. Without any credit given to our ROTC courses, we as cadets are academically penalized for our participation. These classes take time out of our schedules. They necessitate waking up at 4 and 5 a.m, something none of our peers have to deal with. They even come with papers and homework just like any other “normal” class assigns. Moreover, some of us could not hope to even attend Cornell without the military funding through ROTC and these courses. Yet, the University refuses to acknowledge any of this in ignoring the academic weight of participation in ROTC.  

Cornell may not have a Corps of Cadets anymore — and hopefully will never have to erect another war memorial — but there is still a thriving military community here on the hill. The University has done tremendous work in supporting those student veterans who have already served their country. At the same time, though, the administration is neglecting one half of the equation. While we may not have fought or known sacrifice yet, we as ROTC cadets and midshipmen are the future of our nation’s military leadership. At one time, a premium was placed on the development of this demographic, but this has since fallen by the way-side. If Cornell still truly supports those who serve, the administration should make good on the University’s historic principles and acknowledge the merit of the current ROTC programs. 

Brenner Beard is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Agree to Disagree runs every other Friday this semester.