The United States Army recently announced it is reversing its October 2 decision to close the UCSB Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program, along with 12 other programs nationwide, and will instead place the program on “probationary status” for the next two years.
UCSB ROTC, the university’s oldest campus organization, will now operate under strict probationary status until a decision is made regarding its continued funding. However, there is still little information on what the U.S. Army expects from UCSB and the 12 other programs being given this status. Mike Johnson, public relations officer with the U.S. Army Cadet Command at Fort Knox, said the Army is currently still in the process of determining what it expects from these programs over the next two years.
“The Army is working to define the parameters of that status,” Johnson said in an email.
The decision to give probationary status to 13 ROTC programs was made in a letter the U.S. Army sent to Congress earlier this month, and it saves these programs from being shut down for the 2015-2016 school year. Supporters of the UCSB program, including local Congresswoman Lois Capps and Chancellor Henry T. Yang, urged the army to halt the closure of the program. Capps and representatives from 12 other districts housing universities faced with the same program closures, sent a letter on Oct. 7 to John McHugh, Secretary of the Army, expressing support for the programs’ continuation and requesting additional information on the reasoning behind the closure.
Army officials said closures were made to universities that usually commission less than 15 officers a year, however the letter written by Capps and other representatives stated that these lower numbers are due to a variety of reasons, such as students enlisting before they reach the university level of education.
Specifically, the letter asked that McHugh consider looking more closely into the programs at each university before making a final decision, stating that the programs “offer a value to their communities, students and to the Army that has not been accurately calculated.”
“In the years following the 9/11 attacks many prospective ROTC students, especially those from rural areas, chose to enlist immediately following high school, rather than wait four years to join the fight in defense of their country,” the letter stated. “We believe that low graduation rates over the last decade are therefore an ineffective measure of the success of each program.”
Chancellor Yang pledged the university’s full support for UCSB’s ROTC program, known as the Surfrider Battalion, and he said he is pleased with the Army’s decision of suspension.
“UC Santa Barbara’s Surfriders have a long, proud history of serving their country and distinguishing themselves as leaders after graduation,” Yang said in an email. “The University is committed to maintaining a strong ROTC program so that current and future students can maintain this important tradition.”
Lieutenant Colonel George Davis, chair of the Department of Military Science, said he was stunned when the closure announcement came in just after Fall Quarter began.
“Literally a week after school started, I had to make the announcement. We went from starting school … to [feeling] like, ‘Oh my gosh, what just happened?’” Davis said. “Our current sophomores and freshmen would have to transfer and go through another institution. That’s an issue, first off, because it’s hard to transfer as a freshman or sophomore.”
Capps said she supports UCSB’s ROTC program, as it offers a vital source of public service, and plans to continue working with the U.S. Army and UCSB to carry on the program.
“They provide value to students and the nation, providing the kind of leadership that we want for our military going into the future,” Capps said. “During the next two years, I feel a responsibility to continue working with the Army and the university to make sure that there is a pathway toward which they are going to be able to do that.”
The Army will likely increase the annual officer production requirement for UCSB’s program, according to Davis, who said the program currently produces an average of 10 to 12 such candidates per year. However, he remains confident that the program will survive.
“Tell us what the requirement is, and I have a feeling that we will have no problem meeting or exceeding that requirement,” Davis said. “Nobody wants to see this program go away. I have nothing but full confidence that this university is going to be right on our side with this.”
Alex Moore, a senior Cadet, echoed Davis’s sentiments and said he was also upset by news of the suspension, especially after experiencing benefits of the ROTC program.
“I was disappointed,” Moore said. “The program has given me a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of November 18, 2013’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.