Proposal would open ROTC courses to civilian participation by the fall of 2017

Col. Andy Hird says letting civilians with a focus on leadership take ROTC courses will broaden viewpoints in the classroom and benefit those on the military track.

Col. Andy Hird says letting civilians with a focus on leadership take ROTC courses will broaden viewpoints in the classroom and benefit those on the military track. Photo by Amber Reichart

(Second in a series on ROTC)

Course registration might have a few different options available for civilian students in the near future. Declared leadership studies minors and concentrations, take note.

“There is value in diverse thought,” said Col. Andy Hird, professor of aerospace science at Norwich University and the school’s Air Force ROTC Detachment commander. “We as a military are beholden to civilian leadership, and we as a military have recognized the divide that has grown every decade between the civilian and military population in the defense of the country.”

How can Norwich help bridge that divide? By allowing future military officers and civilian leaders to begin to partner up now in the military classroom.

There are a number of changes being proposed in the lineup to the ROTC curriculum and how it interacts with the students of Norwich. A key one is having civilian students enrolled in ROTC courses along with their cadet counterparts effective fall of 2017.

The idea is well liked by the three professors of ROTC. Echoing each others words, the sentiment was there would be nothing but value-added by taking on civilian enrollment in the military classrooms. This is predicated on space available, explained Col. Eric Brigham, the Professor of Military Science and Dean of the National College of Services.

“If it’s a free elective, if [students] are getting credit for it, if there is space for them, and if they want to take a 300 level class, I am certainly willing to open that up,” said Col. Brigham.

“I believe that the young lieutenants that we are putting into the army are going to go into very complex environments, and almost all of those environments include interaction with civilian agencies,” he said. “If we are able to create an environment in the classroom that is inclusive of a civilian perspective, that is only going to allow [the future lieutenants] to understand things at a different level.”

But, precedence would still be given to those pursuing a commission, explained Col. Rob Kuckuk, professor of naval science and head of the joint Marine and Navy ROTC Battalion.

Availability will occur via a hierarchal structure: Students who need these courses to prepare for their post-graduation jobs would come first, cadets who need these courses to satisfy the requirements for a class ring and MCV diploma would come next, and civilian students would be welcome to fill in any seats still open, he said.

Jumping into the ROTC curriculum as free electives also does not make a civilian student suddenly eligible to compete for a contract, explained Col. Brigham, speaking for his own branch. “Unless they start from the beginning and are in the corps of cadets, they don’t have that track.”

That’s okay; it’s not just prospective officers who would be benefitting from this experience. Though any civilian student would be allowed to register for the course, the added benefit would be for those who have declared a leadership studies minor or concentration.

Col. Stephen Pomeroy is the associate director for the School of Business and Management, a former professor of naval science for Norwich, retired marine colonel, and one of faculty members who helped create the leadership studies program.

It operates in two manners, he explained. One option is for students of the management major to declare their concentration in leadership. It acts as an extension of the coursework they are already taking to make them experts in the field. The alternative option is for any major to declare the leadership studies minor, making it a complimentary study to their primary coursework.

The program was introduced just two years ago in May of 2014. Developed by an interdisciplinary committee of professors from all of the colleges, including the ROTC department in the College of National Services, the faculty set out to “gather a wide array of leadership oriented courses offered by many different majors,” Pomeroy said.

The upper level courses of all three ROTC branches fit the bill. With curriculums that covered a wide array of leadership topics, they were added to the list of classes students could choose from.

As of now, however, these classes have remained off-limits to civilian students who may be pursuing the leadership studies minor or concentration, and effectively eliminate one-third of the courses they may choose from to satisfy requirements.

This exemption comes from a simple, two-word phrase found in the course catalog, explained Hird. Located on page 32 of the booklet, the catalog states “To be enrolled in Norwich University’s ROTC program or courses, a student must be a member of the Corps of Cadets with the exception of nursing students.”

“I, as a 25-year veteran, see this one statement in the course catalog as unnecessarily restrictive and preventing a rare opportunity,” Hird said. “The university should not restrict civilians from enrolling [in ROTC].”

Admittedly a rare occurrence, Hird explained that emails he sent to military instructors at other senior military colleges have shown that they have, in fact, allowed civilian students to partake in their classroom instruction.

To solve this problem is a proposed rewording of the course catalog that allows the ROTC courses to be inclusive of all students.

Written out in a PowerPoint presentation briefed to the University Curriculum Council (UCC) earlier this year, the amended wording reads “To enroll in an ROTC program at NU, a student must be a member of the Corps of Cadets.”

“Or courses,” is gone, and civilian students are in.

The proposal was approved by the UCC and sent to the President with their recommendation to approve the change; it awaits final judgment by the Board of Trustees this spring.

Prof. Mike Kelley, an Associate Professor in the David Crawford School of Engineering, and co-chair of developing the leadership studies program, didn’t remember those being the terms of the agreement when the original class list was made. He thought civilian students should have already been in.

Kelley was not aware of the “or courses” exemption in the course catalog. He even argued that the heads of ROTC at the time may not have either.

The wording of the current policy can be found in course catalogs at least as far back as 2012, meaning that policy was well in place before the leadership studies curriculum was ever approved in the spring of 2014.

As far as Kelley knew, civilian students had been granted the permission to have a seat in ROTC classes on a case-by-case basis.

“I do remember personally meeting with the three ROTC colonels [at the time], when we were developing this,” he said.

“When we listed the courses, the intent was there that civilian students could sign up and take those courses if they desired, solely to pursue the minor,” said Kelley. That was a key part to the equation. The student must have officially declared the leadership studies minor or concentration to have a spot in the class.

Kelley was not pointing blame in any direction, however. He explained that the option to take the ROTC courses was never made public knowledge to viable civilian students. “It was left for them to ask, and it might have been an oversight on our part.”

Regardless, he is in full support of the changes the ROTC colonels are trying to put into effect, Kelley said, hoping it will clarify what he described as the “gentleman’s agreement” that has existed up until this point to allow civilians into the military sciences.

Pomeroy had similar positive views about rewording the course restrictions. “I think there are benefits of anyone getting any additional education in any area,” he said.

But he also admits that the classes were not designed for civilians. They were engineered with a very narrow scope and for a very specific audience that might not be immediately useful.

Even without immediate applicability to a civilian student, the colonels still made a compelling argument in their presentation to the UCC, even quoting the school’s founder, Capt. Alden Partridge, “The nation should train a large ‘citizen soldiery’ in the art of war.”

The PowerPoint presentation argues that the current policy is “Inconsistent with the NU Leadership Bran and our [nation’s] senior leaders’ intent to narrow the gap between civilian and military leadership.”

Hird strongly believes having civilian graduate with military connections is a good thing; having them in a military classroom together is one way to do that. “I am very confident the [Board of Trustees] will support this,” he said.


  1. Pops Meharg says:

    Having 7 years active duty, & on the major’s list, I would say this is a long time in coming. I also support bringing back the draft for ALL, no deferments. With many single parent families, the draft would teach many every day items to college students., starting with respect for your fellow man. In my 27 years of civilian management experience my Military was always present. Start with “Yes Sir”, “Yes Mam”. and on and on. Am very proud of my 2 Grandsons and their Military experience. Just do it!

  2. Holly Black '11 says:

    I disagree with this proposal. If civilian/traditional students want to be involved in ROTC, they should attend a civilian/traditional college with such programs. Norwich is a senior military college and the heart of it is the Corps of Cadets. Why has the attention been pulled away from this? I support students getting the Corps experience along with ROTC regardless of major.

    It wasn’t easy, but I was a Corps student, Navy ROTC participant, and nursing major. What I gained from these 3 elements combined will be with me for a lifetime. It has set me apart from other ROTC graduates I’ve met over the past 5 years on active duty. If I had a dollar for every enlisted or officer who has asked what my education path was, I’d be able to take a substantial vacation. I’m proud of that.

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