The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Columbia v. Veterans

"The nation that draws a broad line of demarcation between the fighting
man and the thinking man will have its fighting done by fools and its
thinking done by cowards."--Sir William Francis Butler

Below is a letter by Shane Hachey, currently 2L at Harvard Law and a Columbia graduate, to the Columbia administration and faculty. Despite being an underrepresented minority quite progressive politically, Shane like many veterans at this school has felt alienated by the administration and the faculty for their unwarranted and ignorant attitudes towards the military:

Dear Senators and former Senators,

I would like to take this opportunity, on the 1 year anniversary of the
Senate vote against ROTC, to say a few words regarding that vote and
its subsequent effects.

To begin with, in addition to and perhaps more-so than my
disappointment with the outcome of the vote, was my disappointment with
the almost show-trial atmosphere of the Senate meeting. The back rows
of the room were lined with jeering members of Columbia's socialist
organizations, and the only Senator who had the audacity to actually
defend ROTC and the military in general was loudly booed and hissed
down while the rest of the Senate, including the Executive Committee,
sat and watched. In a decision that I now regret, I refrained from
speaking up and telling these hecklers to let the man speak, feeling
that because I was not a current student or a Senator, it was not my
place to try to bring order to this meeting. Apparently, no other
senator, nor even the President of the Senate himself, thought it their
place either. Of course, it was another matter entirely when Provost
Brinkley brought down the house with his anti-ROTC speech.

Almost as disappointing was the uninformed nature of the discussion
amongst the Senate. It appeared that most senators, at least the ones
who spoke, had not thought the issue through ahead of time, and we
wasted valuable time while people asked and answered questions that had
been gone over numerous times in the year leading up to the vote. And
of course, the impassioned statements made regarding President Bush,
the war in Iraq, and general U.S. "militarism" strayed the discussion
even further off track. In such an unprepared, unprofessional, and
politicized environment, it is little wonder that the vote was so

I want to be clear about this. It seems quite apparent to me that
reasonable people can disagree about whether ROTC has a place on
Columbia's campus, and I believe that the 5-5 split vote on the Senate
ROTC Task Force is a clear example of reasonable people disagreeing.
However, a lopsided 53-10 vote, taken in a meeting conducted in the
above manner, clearly evidences not reasonable people disagreeing, but
a group of people supposedly representing a diverse student body (who
are at least evenly split on the issue) casting an ideological vote
against our military, against our service members, and, I imagine in
some minds, against our current administration and its military

It is difficult for me to say in a restrained manner the way such a
vote affects the way I as a veteran and son of a veteran feel about
Columbia University. Despite my great educational experience at
Columbia, this vote and the way it took place cast an official stamp on
the sort of anti-military and anti-American sentiment common among the
most radical of Columbia students. As if I wasn't distanced enough from
this school, my experiences dealing with the opponents of ROTC and,
more to the point, the University Senate, have left me feeling almost
entirely alienated from Columbia. I'm sure there are people who cast a
carefully considered and well thought-out vote against ROTC, but I
believe that they were significantly outnumbered by people using their
vote to cast an ideological protest or to make some sort of
"statement." In concrete terms, what those votes have done is to push
myself and a number of other veteran (as well as some non-veteran)
alumni even farther away and create in some of us a certain animosity
towards our alma mater.

Let's make no mistake: This vote had no tangible effect on the Don't
Ask, Don't Tell policy. It did not "send a message" to anyone in
Washington except that our university is hostile to the military (quite
the point for some of you, I'm sure). It did not start any movements or
get any balls rolling towards changing this unfair and impractical
policy. All it did was express a vote of no confidence in our military
and those who serve in it, further isolating Columbia and its students
from the people who serve our country and those who support them.

As it stands in light of the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the
Solomon Amendment, this whole debate is a nullity if the federal
government decides to force the issue. For those who take issue with
the existence and use of the Solomon Amendment, consider this: besides
the implicit logic that an entity that provides money, especially in
amounts of hundreds of millions, has the right to attach conditions to
the receipt of that money, you might recall that the same threat of
losing federal funding is what provides the teeth for important
non-discrimination codes, including Title IX (gender discrimination)
and Title VI (racial discrimination). Therefore, I find it quite
disingenuous for President Bollinger and others to lament the
government's use of the "power of the purse" to pressure universities
to adopt particular policies. I doubt that anyone at Columbia would
seriously question the ability of the federal government to use the
"power of the purse" to enforce the above sections of the Civil Rights
Act, or the morality of such force. Since the means of the purse are
generally agreed upon as legitimate, the real objection President
Bollinger and others who take his view must have is the ends of the
Solomon Amendement, i.e. allowing military recruiters and cadets equal
access to university facilities.

Also disingenuous is the President's assertion immediately after the
vote that the vote itself reflected a "consensus of the Columbia
University community" considering that the single poll we have
suggested a 65% majority of students in favor of allowing ROTC to
return to Columbia. Day to day experience also bears out this sort of
proportionate sentiment. The sort of statement made by President
Bollinger is at best unverified and at worst patently false. Again,
this just points to the inadequacy of the entire process that led to
last year's vote. It makes me wonder who exactly the Senate represents.
Some might respond that the senate was protecting a minority from a
majority. As I have stated before, this vote did nothing to quicken the
death of Don't Ask Don't Tell, nothing to protect gay students at
Columbia, and indeed, a compromise could have been reached that would
have allowed ROTC on campus yet financially protected gay cadets. Yet
this was not even discussed. Again, I hold this professed "minority
rights" motivation to be highly suspect considering the circumstances
surrounding the vote.

On another note, considering how many personal stories we heard last
year that had nothing to do with ROTC (I'm thinking particularly of
Nate Walker's emotionally charged and completely irrelevant story
presented to the final task force meeting that effectively
short-circuited debate), I thought I might share a few of my own.

In the very beginning of the spring semester of 2003, mere months after
the formation of the Columbia veteran's group, and in a political
climate leading up to the war in Iraq, I attempted to set up a brief
meeting between President Bollinger and our group through his office.
This was not going to be a meeting whereby we issued demands, made
proclamations, or the like. We simply wanted to have a quiet talk about
some of the military-related issues affecting the campus and to answer
any questions he may have had regarding our group or the military in

I still have the emails from his staff expressing his willingness and,
indeed, his enthusiasm to meet with us. For the entire semester, I and
his staff played a game whereby I would be told to wait for his office
to contact our group, I would wait approximately two weeks to hear
back, knowing how busy the President and his staff must be, I would
send another email inquiry or visit the office again, again be informed
of his desire to meet with us and to wait for a response, and on and on
until the end of the semester. I wanted to give President Bollinger the
benefit of the doubt, especially considering my admiration for the way
he stood his ground in the Michigan affirmative action cases. In my
mind, however, he lost all benefit of the doubt on the day I read about
a fireside chat that he had with dorm residents about the future of
varsity and club sports at Columbia.

Allow me to reiterate: Columbia's president could take time out from
his busy schedule that semester to meet with students and discuss the
future of Columbia basketball and rugby, but could not find 30 minutes
during the entire semester to meet with a group of active and former
service-members attending Columbia during a time of war, some of whom
were facing the possibility of being recalled to fight. To me this is
as wrong as it is preposterous. I think I need not go into detail to
describe how that shaped my opinion of how Columbia generally and
President Bollinger specifically views the military and those who serve
in it.

Another fond memory I have from that semester at Columbia is of
standing by a friend who was tabling for signatures and was wearing his
Army field jacket. One of my favorite professors, William Harris,
walked by us, and with a clearly disgusted tone and look on his face
asked my friend something along the lines of "How can you wear that
thing?" He seemed to be in a hurry, but I made a point to catch up with
him and engage him, both because I remembered his class fondly and felt
he could be reasonably engaged, and because I was offended by his
public disrespect of my friend's service. I said something along the
lines that my friend was wearing his jacket because he was proud of his
service, to which Professor Harris replied "Well, my father was in the
Royal such-and-such, and was proud of his service, but he never served
in a fascist organization." He promptly sped off. Again, I think I need
not describe how hearing one of my favorite professors compare the
pride of having served in the United States Army to being proud of
having served fascism, affected me.

I could go on and on, but the point is clear. The leadership of
Columbia University simply does not respect the military or those who
serve in it, and indeed, largely holds them in contempt. Last year's
vote against ROTC was merely the most blatant and publicized example of

I have tried to accommodate, listen to, plan and cooperate with people
who have different viewpoints and opinions about military issues at
this university and have watched repeatedly as the same courtesy has
been refused myself and my colleagues, and while our gestures of
friendly dialogue and mutually-agreeable solutions have been met with
oily, two-faced political maneuvering, placating administrators, and
outright hostility. I feel more alienated from this university every
time something like this happens, and quite frankly am tired of trying
to affect change at Columbia from within.

I hope that someday the Columbia student body, faculty, and
administration will step away from their Vietnam-era hostility towards
all things military. Until that day, many people such as myself are
going to feel like "alumni non grata" at our own alma mater, and will
continue to view ourselves in opposition to this university, which is a
truly sad and entirely preventable state of affairs.


Shane Hachey
GS 2004
US Army 1993-1998


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