Myth: A university must offer course credit for ROTC
Instance of the myth: Harvard Crimson article and Brown Daily Herald editorial. The editorial is particularly significant since it appears to quote Brown's provost:
Provost David Kertzer, in an e-mail to the editorial page board, further noted that "in the past, the faculty have voiced concerns" about the military's requirements, like the one requiring the University to grant academic credit for ROTC classes.
Facts: Many colleges such as Princeton have ROTC but offer no course credit. The situation at Princeton was discussed in an article that appeared on the Harvard-associated MilBlog "Secure Nation":
Although it is claimed that ”the University would also have to grant credit for ROTC coursework” there is no such requirement in the law. Indeed, Princeton has announced that ”credit would not be provided at Princeton” for ROTC courses, despite language in the 1972 Army-Princeton agreement that “academic credit for military professional subjects will be judged by the institution under the same procedure and criteria as for other institutional courses”.
There is a similar situation at MIT, where there is no academic credit for Army, or Air Force ROTC courses, and credit for only one advanced Navy course. At other top colleges such as Cornell and Penn, students in some graduate and professional programs get some academic credit for ROTC courses, but typically students at the main undergraduate college do not. This is detailed in a table of relevant colleges here.
Dean Katherine Bergeron of Brown College reported on behalf of Brown's committee on ROTC, and the Brown Daily Herald reported on 16 March 2011 that "She noted that the University will not need to offer academic credit for ROTC classes."
Existing arrangements are no guarantee of offers to colleges asking for new ROTC programs. In 1996 the Army maintained that a college must "Grant academic credit for successful completion of courses offered by the Department of Military Science" but the situation on the ground is very different, at least for existing ROTC programs, and no provisions in the ROTC Vitilization Act of 1964 require course credit.
The military is unlikely to threaten to close down ROTC programs at MIT and Princeton if they don't offer academic credit, and the negotiations with top colleges are likely to begin with the position that new programs will not be offered the arrangement at Princeton and MIT. Resolving the resulting disagreement between universities and the military is likely to be a decision made at high levels in the military and the government. Thought leaders, such as Prof. Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins, have urged the military to be more flexible on the course credit for ROTC programs. It stands to reason that with President Obama urging colleges to "open their doors" to ROTC, military leaders will give serious consideration to extending the arrangments on course credit at top colleges to new ROTC programs at such colleges.
It appears that the 4 March 2011 agreement between the Navy and Harvard will follow the Navy-MIT pattern of no credit except for some advanced technical seminars, for which Harvard already gives credit.
Transcending the issue of what credit a university must give is the issue of what credit a university should give. An ROTC+ approach has been explored at various colleges. As related in a "Blueprint for Harvard ROTC" article, efforts at Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia have pointed the way towards an ROTC+ model that builds on the basic model by making available high quality courses valued by both the university and the military. These ROTC+ efforts have been of two types:
First and foremost, the military science courses that ROTC students are required to take should be eligible for university credit. More should also be done to add components of military history to the College’s history course offerings at large, very few of which deal with topics relating to military history.
Yale is implementing such an approach, as announced on 8 November 2011.
Similar approaches have been explored at Stanford, as detailed in an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor:
I served on a university committee at Stanford University that negotiated with the Department of Defense (DOD) concerning academic credit for ROTC courses. In these negotiations, the Department of Defense indicated its willingness to grant ROTC credit for courses taught by Stanford professors. For example, a course on war and conflict taught by the respected Professor Peter Paret, a translator of Clausewitz’s “On War,” would have been granted credit for the required ROTC course on military history. If DOD were now willing to accept such courses, the objection to having non-Stanford professors teaching courses for academic credit would be lessened.