San Francisco’s Ban on the Junior ROTC

Published November 16, 2006

National Review Online

San Francisco has banned the Junior ROTC program (JROTC) from the city’s high schools. (For a report on related initiatives, see “San Francisco to Army: Drop Dead.”) The No Child Left Behind Act includes a provision denying federal funds to schools that bar military recruiters. If that provision of NCLBA applies here, then the administration must enforce it. If, on the other hand, JROTC is not technically classed as “recruitment,” then the coverage of the Solomon Amendment (for universities) and the No Child Left Behind Act (for K-12) needs to be expanded by congress to include both the ROTC and the JROTC.

The administration and the (formerly) Republican congress have dropped the ball on this issue. First, let’s give credit where credit is due. The Bush administration has enforced the Solomon Amendment’s application to law school recruitment, and has very successfully defended against a legal challenge to the Solomon Amendment, winning a unanimous decision in the Supreme Court. (The Solomon Amendment denies federal funds to colleges and universities that bar military recruiters.) For all this, the administration deserves our praise. Congress and the president are also to be credited for inserting a recruitment protection provision in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Having said all that, many of America’s finest colleges and universities are still barring the ROTC, while continuing to pocket millions of dollars in federal aid. This should not be permitted. Either the Solomon Amendment and No Child Left Behind should be invoked against bans on ROTC and JROTC programs (which are de facto forms of recruitment), or the definition of what counts as recruitment should be formally expanded by congress to include ROTC and JROTC.

This is both the right thing to do, and a winning political issue. Yet (despite the positive actions cited above) both the administration and the Republicans in congress have largely downplayed and neglected the ROTC/JROTC issue. Establishment Republicans seem to believe that the days of Bill Bennett and Lynn Cheney are long past. No need to use the bully pulpit to take on campus outrages, like the exclusion of our armed forces by colleges that suck up multi-millions of taxpayer dollars at the public trough. The administration seems to believe that these public battles distract from big issues like the war on terror and social security reform. In fact, highlighting bans of ROTC and JROTC helps expose the motives of the harshest critics of the war on terror, who also happen to be the core supporters of Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, and Ned Lamont.

So Republicans in congress, are you listening? Why not force the Democrats to accept or reject revisions to the Solomon Amendment and No Child Left Behind Act? Why not force those who would bar ROTC and JROTC to surrender their federal subsidies? Are you listening Republican presidential candidates? Why not run on a pledge to bring ROTC back to our college campuses, and JROTC back to San Francisco, by forcing those who ban these organizations to surrender their federal subsides?

While we’re at it, Republican presidential candidates, why not pledge to appoint a Secretary of Education and/or an NEH head who will use the bully pulpit to foreground the problems of our colleges and universities? If President Bush could run on a pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices modeled on Scalia and Thomas, why not also run on a pledge to appoint higher education officials modeled on William Bennett and Lynn Cheney? How wrong (and politically foolish) of us it’s been to have given up on this critical aspect of Reagan era conservatism.

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