Even Obama Can't Get Columbia University To Listen

Polls closed early?  More votes disqualified than counted for either side? Individuals casting multiple votes?  No independent, anti-fraud auditing?

Yes — to all of the above.  And, at the final result, by a 39-vote margin Columbia University students decided to renew the ban on ROTC classes at the Ivy League school.

In an episode reminiscent of the referenda conducted by Joe Stalin in the USSR’s heyday, Columbia University surveyed its students from Monday, November 24 until Monday, December 1 to gauge interest for the return of the Navy’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) to campus.  Students currently have no option to participate in Navy ROTC in the greater Manhattan area.

Student leaders from Columbia’s Hamilton Society, the campus group which advocates for academic engagement of the military as a civic institution and promotes national service among students, have been calling for ROTC to return to Columbia.  With the help of the student senate, a simple yes/no referendum vote was organized for all students, “Do you support bringing a Naval ROTC program to Columbia’s campus?”

The university officially conducted the referendum on the school’s computer network and scheduled it to take place, despite repeated requests to the contrary from concerned students on both sides of the question, during the week of Thanksgiving.  

That’s right, instead of providing a full, normal academic week for students to vote on ROTC, as Columbia routinely does for other student referendums, they provided less than half the time during a holiday week — amid days already overstuffed with term paper deadlines.

At the outset, Columbia announced the ROTC referendum would run through the Monday after Thanksgiving, prompting the Hamilton Society and the rest of the large pro-ROTC coalition to plan a final “get out the vote” effort for the first day most students would be back on campus after the holiday weekend.  Yet, the university inexplicably cut-off voting at 9 a.m. for most students, save those enrolled at Barnard College who were given until 5 p.m., instead of midnight on December 1.

Austin Byrd, vice-president of the Hamilton Society, reports the group discussed their “get out the vote” plans over the university email system before and during the referendum. Did Columbia thwart their plans, perhaps in light of a dwindling “NO” margin for the referendum on Monday morning? One can only wonder.

In the final tally, announced Tuesday, December 2, Columbia states 4,905 votes were recorded, of which only 2,971 were determined to be valid.  1,463 voted “YES” for Navy ROTC, while 1502 voted “NO.”  So, 39 votes purportedly determine the fate of ROTC, when 1,934 votes were disqualified without independent verification?

Absurd, isn’t it?  More votes were disqualified than counted for either side.  

Columbia cited one student who cast 276 votes as proof that the vote was vetted for accuracy.  Yet doesn’t this reflect a fundamental procedural flaw, a lack of front-end operational control, in the ROTC referendum?

With all the institutional secrecy and missteps surrounding the entire referendum on providing Columbia’s students an on-campus opportunity to serve in Navy ROTC, one can only walk away with more questions than answers.

And that’s probably by design.

Columbia, like many other elite universities, used to encourage students to serve in the military by hosting and promoting ROTC programs on campus.  However, leftist radicals among the students and faculty changed that during Vietnam, using any and every excuse to deny all students on campus the opportunity to serve.

One need only look back to 2005, when Columbia held a similar student referendum on ROTC, which won approval with a very wide margin, only to have the university senate, which includes mostly faculty and administrators amid a handful of students, crush the initiative with a totalitarian we-know-best attitude.

While the tactics and techniques of the anti-military mob continue to evolve, their animus and determination certainly have not.

Lee Bollinger, Columbia’s president, has made clear where he stands with ROTC.  After President-elect Obama, himself a Columbia alumnus, visited campus in September and called for his alma mater and other Ivy-League schools to rectify the “mistake” of not offering ROTC on their campuses, Bollinger issued a statement on ROTC, saying, “Columbia University has a long and continuing tradition of making special efforts to open its doors to men and women with military service.”

Prove it, President Bollinger.  Demonstrate your leadership, instead of following the thinly-veiled anti-militarism expressed by too many of your academic peers; bring Navy ROTC back to Columbia.

And, President-elect Obama, stand by your word.  Live up to the change you profess and ensure students, for the first time since Vietnam, have the opportunity to serve in ROTC at Columbia and other elite campuses (or enforce existing federal law and cut-off their taxpayer subsidies until they do).

As we end the year, Columbia remains a place where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is welcome, but our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are not. 

Federal law, known as the Solomon amendment, prohibits colleges and universities from receiving taxpayer funding if they prohibit ROTC and military recruiters from campus.  While the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law as constitutional in 2006, the Bush administration has not subsequently sought to enforce the law, giving six of U.S. News’ top ten schools cover for their anti-military policies and practices.

Young America’s Foundation has dubbed these schools as Solomon’s Shameful Six.