NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Yale sophomore Andrew Hendricks has gotten used to receiving strange looks when he crosses the Ivy League campus in his Air Force uniform.
Hendricks, the only Air Force cadet at Yale, wears the uniform on days he drives to the University of Connecticut to train with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a program that had been barred from his university until faculty agreed to welcome it back beginning next fall.
Four decades after Vietnam War protesters cheered the departure of ROTC programs from some Ivy League universities, their return is bringing little more than a symbolic change to campuses where students are neither protesting or enlisting.
Yale, Harvard and Columbia all signed agreements this year to bring back ROTC. The antagonism with elite universities faded with the end of the draft, and much of the lingering opposition to the military dissolved with last year’s repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that banned gays from serving openly in the armed services. The universities said the policy violated non-discrimination rules for campus organizations.
A tiny number of students at these schools pursue ROTC — a total of three at Yale and five at Columbia do so through off-campus arrangements — and those numbers are not expected to rise dramatically. But the agreements to revive ROTC are important to the schools, which once produced many of America’s most decorated military officers, and the armed services, which are regaining a presence at some of the country’s best-known universities.
Officials are excited about ROTC because it offers students another path to national leadership, the dean of Yale College, Mary Miller, said in an interview.
The change is likely to be minimal at Yale, as well as at Harvard and Columbia, where Naval ROTC gained formal recognition but students are expected to continue training at nearby campuses. At Harvard, which has nine midshipmen training at other Boston area schools, the Naval ROTC director said it would not make sense to create a new detachment.
Regardless of the numbers, advocates said it is important to the military to be represented on elite campuses.
“Symbols matter, and the symbolism of America’s leading universities declaring or even implying that there is something illegitimate about serving your nation in uniform was shameful,” said Graham Allison, director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense.
But there is still some resistance in the Ivy League. Brown University’s president, Ruth Simmons, said this week that she continues to back the school’s policy of denying ROTC recognition as an academic program.
A music professor at Brown, Jeff Todd Titon, said many faculty feel there is no place for the military at a liberal arts college.
“The military is a chain of command organization where obedience is required, and that’s just antithetical to our ideals and goals,” he said.
Hendricks is looking forward to dropping the three-hour weekly commute to Storrs when ROTC comes to New Haven, and he also thinks it will make him feel more at home on his own campus.
“Knowing that I’ll be doing this for Yale, I’ll feel more school pride,” he said.