After ten years on the job, Ruth Simmons, the president of Brown University, just announced she is stepping down. The only African American among the presidents of Ivy League schools, Ms. Simmons was haled at the beginning of her tenure as the leader who would exemplify Brown's commitment to racial equality, social justice, etc. It hasn't quite worked out that way. Ms. Simmons took over in the midst of a controversy over the school's role in the slave trade. Apparently one of the school's original financiers made his money that way. The controversy began when David Horowitz ran an advertisement in the school's newspaper arguing that reparations were racist.
At any rate, Ms. Simmons came into office and immediately appointed a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice to learn just what Brown's role was historically. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there were those who didn't think much of the report, like law professor Richard Epstein (then at the University of Chicago), who found it "childish" and "kind of embarrassing." He accused Simmons of stacking the committee with people who sympathized with the idea of reparations. "By making yourself appear worse than you are, you alter the historical debate to make it appear that the country is incapable of self-correction," says Mr. Epstein. Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, meanwhile, criticized the university for not going far enough when the administration and trustees ultimately decided not to offer reparations.
Whatever people may have expected from Simmons because of her race, she did exactly what any other modern president of an elite university would have done. She appointed a committee, apologized for any wrongdoing and moved on, making sure that no money was lost in the process. Simmons took the same attitude when the Brown community learned that she was on the board of Goldman Sachs and was responsible in part for doling out bonuses to bankers, including the $9 million payout for Lloyd Blankfein. Perhaps observers assumed that because Simmons was the head of such a liberal university she wouldn't stand for further enriching the rich. But she is actually a university president and that has two primary job requirements: raising money and acting diplomatically.
Simmons has taken the same approach with ROTC that she took with reparations. Since the end of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy, every Ivy League school but Brown has started to make arrangements for the return of ROTC to campus. Every one but Brown. Brown appointed a committee, which voted 6-4 in favor of returning Air and Naval ROTC to campus. But no decision has been made yet and it doesn't sound like one is forthcoming. According to Inside Higher Ed:
As it stands, Brown has maintained an agreement with Providence College to provide Army ROTC services to Brown students, a relationship the committee recommended keeping. While many ROTC programs at other universities are counted for elective credit, the committee also recommended that ROTC should be considered an extracurricular activity and not require the university to deem instructors faculty members.
As one Brown professor explained, “It seems absurd to me to bring it back in the midst of one of the most unpopular wars in our country’s history.” Because we should only have an army at times when Ivy League professors approve of the conflicts we happen to be engaged in. In the same article on the subject, a student wondered why it was that Brown felt comfortable continuing to have its students do their training at Providence College (in the same way that Harvard used to send its students to MIT). “It’s sort of saying, 'It’s O.K., but not in my backyard,’ ” he said.
Yes, that's the kind of diplomatic approach that is the mark of a college president these days. Send ROTC students down the street to some other school so we don't have the taint of the US Military on campus. All the while we can maintain the moral high ground.