UMBC community offers views on ROTC proposal

Many raise objections at 'town hall' meeting

May 15, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun Reporter

The faculty senate at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County voted this week in favor of establishing a permanent ROTC site on the Catonsville campus, but dozens of members of the campus community protested the proposal yesterday, objecting to the "militarization" of the campus and the Army's treatment of openly homosexual soldiers.

At a spirited "town hall" meeting at UMBC, President Freeman A. Hrabowski III said he was still deliberating about whether to apply for the new program and the attendant scholarship benefits to students.

In recent days, the UMBC administration has indicated that it is in favor of the idea, despite emotional objections from some students, faculty and staff about the last-minute timing of the proposal.

"This is a very difficult decision," said Provost Art Johnson, who said the Army's invitation for the school to apply required a decision within several weeks. "There are legitimate points on both sides."

If the campus is accepted as a host site, a Department of Military Science would be established, and officer training in Catonsville could start as soon as this fall.

About 20 current UMBC undergraduate cadets receive their training at the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus.

The Army, stretched thin from prolonged engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, is expanding force levels nationwide and requires more commissioned officers to oversee enlisted troops, said Lt. Col. Kenneth A. Romaine.

Romaine heads the ROTC unit at Hopkins and only last month received permission to invite UMBC to apply for home-site status, he said.

"Across the country, some 20 additional programs were authorized" in the past year, Romaine said. "So what we're doing is we go around to where the Army currently has programs and where there's an opportunity for growth."

There are about 270 ROTC units on campuses around the country, and more than 1,200 college campuses with satellite programs, said Paul Kotakis, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Cadet Command.

The command's mandate has grown in recent years, from producing 4,500 commissioned officers a year to about 5,350, Kotakis said.

UMBC was not on the initial list of candidates for new ROTC sites, Romaine said, but he proposed the campus after other area schools declined invitations to apply. Lt. Col. James E. Garrison, who runs the ROTC program at Loyola College, said nearby Towson University decided in February that it couldn't meet the facilities requirements to host a permanent ROTC unit on campus.

About 30 Towson undergraduates in the ROTC program receive their training at Loyola, Garrison said. But the weekly commute for cadets from Catonsville to Charles Village is far longer, and UMBC officials said they believe they could attract more students interested in a military career if they had an on-campus unit.

"We are losing students to Hopkins because of a lack of an ROTC host program being here," said Yvette Mozie-Rosshead, head of enrollment management. She said ROTC actively recruits prospective UMBC students and that there has been "very strong interest" from students and their families.

UMBC officials also said the school stands to benefit from increased college scholarships if it becomes an ROTC host. Although UMBC students constitute nearly half of the participants in the Hopkins unit, they receive fewer scholarships because the Army gives priority to Hopkins, college officials said.

The Army offers full-tuition scholarships to some ROTC participants, who receive basic military training while in school. Scholarship recipients must commit to 8 years of military service. While in school, cadets also receive a $1,200 annual textbook allowance and monthly stipends ranging from $350 to $500, Romaine said.

Yesterday, a parade of UMBC community members - including self-described "draft dodgers" of the Vietnam era, gay rights activists, and current and former ROTC cadets - took their turn at the microphone to try to persuade Hrabowski to see their side of the debate.

Opponents of the proposed ROTC unit argued that the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy conflicts with UMBC's nondiscrimination policy. Michelle Danaher, a junior from St. Mary's County and a member of the campus gay rights Freedom Alliance, said an Army outpost on campus would represent "a place on my campus where I'm not welcome." She said her girlfriend would have liked an ROTC scholarship but "couldn't get it."

Several current and former ROTC cadets said they disagree with "don't ask, don't tell," but they argued that it is a political issue that should be left to Congress to decide.

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