R.O.T.C. Making Cuts to Expand Recruiting

It would seem they want more cannon fodder rather than decision makers.

New York Times – by Alan Blinder

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — When Sarah Short arrived at Tennessee Technological University this summer, she had mapped out her four years of undergraduate study and well beyond: an affordable nursing degree and a commission as an Army officer.  

Melissa Edwards, a cadet, rested in between running drills. More than half of the universities affected by the cuts are in the South.

But months into her first semester, Ms. Short’s plans changed after the Army announced it would close Tennessee Tech’s 63-year-old Reserve Officers Training Corps program in 2015, two years before Ms. Short expected to finish her degree.

“This is the only place I’ve ever wanted to go,” Ms. Short, 18, a first-generation college student from Murfreesboro, said last week. “It’s perfect for me — was perfect.”

The abrupt news, delivered to Ms. Short and scores of other cadets here days into the government shutdown, was not tied to a partisan standoff in Washington. Instead, it was part of an Army effort to redirect its resources and money to areas where it wants to broaden its recruiting, including major cities.

To underwrite the transformation, the Army chose to close R.O.T.C. programs at 13 universities, more than half of them in the South. Tennessee alone will lose R.O.T.C. offerings at three of its public universities, the most of any state.

The Army selected the universities after a review found that the programs were typically yielding fewer than 15 commissioned officers annually, although the military acknowledged it granted exceptions to dozens of schools because they met other standards.

The Army Cadet Command, which oversees R.O.T.C. and its approximately 33,000 aspiring soldiers, said that by shuttering the 13 lagging programs, it will be able to shift resources to 56 other markets, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. In many instances, existing programs will grow.

Maj. Gen. Jefforey A. Smith, the commander of the Cadet Command, said the move was not part of a major shift from rural settings to urban ones. Still, he added: “It makes sense that we would move toward where the population is where we think we have a recruiting population to go after.”

The changes will come amid a push by the Army to diversify its officer corps, a large portion of which comes from the R.O.T.C. In 2011, about 28 percent of active duty Army officers were minorities, up from 23 percent a decade earlier.

The Army, which revived R.O.T.C. at some universities, including several in the Ivy League, in recent years, has not implemented a widespread closure plan since 1998.

“A lot of things have changed in the United States of America since 1998,” General Smith said. “The demographics of the country have clearly shifted.”

Beth J. Asch, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation who studies military recruiting, said the Cadet Command’s R.O.T.C. overhaul appeared prudent given the federal government’s austerity drive.

“They certainly want to put these programs where they think they’re going to be able to feed the system. R.O.T.C. is critical for the Army, so it’s got to be productive,” Dr. Asch said. She said that people who can meet the Army’s rigorous standards for physical fitness and education “tend not to be in rural areas and, historically, the South.” She noted weight issues as one current concern.

But at many of the 13 universities that will see their programs wind down in the coming years, administrators see the Army’s ruling differently.

On the campus of Tennessee Tech, a university of about 11,000 students between Nashville and Knoxville, the Army’s decision has drawn sharp criticism as one that could imperil the educational futures of students from rural communities.

“The truth is a lot of the kids in this area just won’t have the opportunity,” said Philip B. Oldham, the university president. “Their connections to their home, to their family are just a little too strong, so they just won’t have the chance.”

Administrators at other universities are voicing similar concerns, and some are pushing back aggressively against the Army’s plans.

At the behest of Arkansas State University, which will lose R.O.T.C. at its flagship campus but not at a satellite institution, three members of Congress demanded answers from Pentagon officials this month during an hourlong conference call.

The universities, which have questioned the military’s methodologies for evaluating their programs, have also complained that the Army did not offer them a chance to defend their records.

General Smith said, though, that each school “was applied against a set of criteria.” He does not expect the decisions to be reversed.

But while the educators seek intervention from Capitol Hill and other quarters, some students are left with stark choices. Although the juniors and seniors who are currently enrolled in R.O.T.C. at the 13 universities will be able to finish their degrees by the time the programs conclude, freshmen and sophomores will have to decide whether they want to alter — and perhaps abandon — their Army plans or transfer to another school.

Ms. Short decided against leaving Tennessee Tech. She now plans to enter the military through an Army program for nurses.

But Caleb Anderson, 19, a sophomore, immediately chose to move elsewhere. He began contacting other colleges within 15 minutes of learning of the closure at Tennessee Tech.

“When you’re faced with trials like this, you just have to adapt and overcome,” Mr. Anderson said. “I’ve always wanted to serve my people and my country.”

Mr. Anderson intends to enroll at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, an institution that had its R.O.T.C. program reinstated in 2007 after the Army closed it in the 1990s.

Backers of the endangered programs say the Army needs a different approach to expanding elsewhere.

“I don’t believe in shifting, just to get more people of different backgrounds, at the expense of these R.O.T.C. programs that are well-established and are producing outstanding officers,” said Carl W. Stiner, a retired four-star general who is an alumnus of the program at Tennessee Tech. “You will deny people who want to be commissioned through the R.O.T.C. program and serve their country.”


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