‘Win-Win’ proposal seeks to reduce ROTC course requirement for students not seeking military contracts.

Amber Reichart Photo

Amber Reichart Photo

If proposed changes are approved, Corps of Cadets students not seeking military contracts will have to take just four, instead of the current six, ROTC classes to earn a Military College of Vermont (MCV) diploma and ring effective fall of 2017.

Col.Andy Hird, head of the Air Force department and professor of aerospace science, is acting spokesman for this change. He said the theme is opportunity and diversity: putting the power of decision of how best to develop one’s academic and professional growth in the hands of both cadets and civilians.

“If we do change, it’s going to be a win-win for everybody,” Hird said, “this is intended to be a win for seeking-cadets, non-seeking-cadets, civilian students, and the university.”

Those wins come in the form of five interconnected modifications to how ROTC coursework “interacts with the university,” he said, ranging from a formalized definition of the term free-elective to allowing civilians a seat in military classrooms.

Most critical of these changes, as felt by the three of the ROTC branches, is the “six-to-four” change, as Hird referred to it; the reduction of ROTC classes that corps students not seeking contracts are currently required to take.

The process started early this past November with Col. Eric Brigham, the professor of military science for Army ROTC and dean of the National College of Service. The question he posed was this: Is the time spent on both student’s and instructor’s parts to take and teach upper level ROTC courses worth doing for cadets just seeking to satisfy the requirements for a ring, and an MCV diploma?

The answer was no. Brigham explained that his decision came from an assessment of his own department’s student-to-faculty ratio. That ratio is at a point where it doesn’t seem reasonable that an instructor is responsible for 50 students just so a certain portion can earn a ring, and a diploma.

“[The current requirement] is putting, in my mind, an unnecessary requirement on my instructors to teach people that are not interested in commissioning,” Brigham said.

To gain a different perspective, Brigham reached out to the ROTC programs of other senior military colleges to find what requirements they have of their students who choose not to commission. The results were surprisingly varied.

The website of the Virginia Military Institute shows that its cadets are expected to enroll in ROTC for all eight semesters that they attend the institution. Texas A&M University just requires the first four semester for theirs.

When Brigham discussed his observation with the other two heads of ROTC at Norwich, he found they were both in agreement. Hird attributed one of the problems being the archaic nature of the staffing that has been unable to grow with the size of the corps population.

The current manning of military staff was modeled a long time ago when the size of the corps was much smaller, he explained. Class size has since greatly expanded but the number of instructors positions has largely remained the same causing the skewed ratio that now exists in the classroom.

Col.Rob Kuckuk, the school’s professor of naval science, said, “it’s more appropriate for a two-year requirement versus a three-year.” Or as he put it, the focus of this change is to “align requirements with resources.”

The resources align with the requirements enough to maintain mandatory participation in the first four semesters of ROTC. In fact, all three professors found common ground in the value of having large classroom numbers for the 100 and 200 level courses.

“I don’t mind, in any manner, having students in my program as freshmen and sophomores,” Brigham said. More numbers means more talent to recruit from, and these large classes act well as a feeder system from which to drum up interest in cadets to pursue a commission.

But the junior year, Brigham explained, is the critical year. Not only is it the last year in which cadets can commit to commissioning, but it is also the year that marks the turn in curriculum from basic military knowledge to leader development.

Kuckuk said one can look to the U.S.Navy as an example. Unlike the other branches, he said, naval midshipman pursuing a slot as a surface warfare officer (SWO) do not attend any advanced schooling upon commissioning in May and reporting for duty on their first ship.

The new ensigns will eventually continue on to some form of advanced training, Kuckuk continued, but many will find themselves in their officer role very quickly after leaving Norwich. One such case happened last year. “A student graduated Saturday, and on Tuesday morning he was in Pearl Harbor on the bridge of his ship and doing his job.”

To make sure students are ready, upper level naval science courses are geared toward those [situations] so students can be ready to employ those skills right after graduation, Kuckuk said.

Or as Hird said, “It is misplaced effort on our part,” referring to the mixed student body of 300 level ROTC courses, “we are diluting attention to those who we plan to make officers out of.”

But approval for this change is no simple process. Ultimately, the decision to say yay or nay will come from the Board of Trustees, but the first step was for the proposal to be brought before the University Curriculum Committee (UCC). The proposal was sent in by the College of National Services to the UCC this past December, Byrne said. The committee debated on the topic through the months of December and January before sending it, with their recommendation to approve, to the president of the university.

It is there that the proposal waits until President Schneider consults with the Board of Trustees to make the decision which is expected to happen late this spring.

Successfully implementing the new requirements hinges on one other key factor, explained Hird, and that is crediting the lower level ROTC courses as free electives within all majors: a policy that is not currently in place.

Not only are lower level courses currently unable to count for credit, but the term free elective remains undefined in the course catalog. Hird said a definition of the term had been created and included in the proposal to the UCC.

The definition, as written in the brief given to the UCC, is the following: “A free elective is any course taken that is not specifically required by the major or minor field of study. Any catalog course may be used toward free elective.”

The importance of crediting these courses comes down to a game of numbers, Hird explained. In its current state, the ROTC courses of all branches taken by non-contracting cadets count for three credits. Over the course of two classes, this adds up to a total of six.

If the 100 and 200 level courses were not to be counted for credit, that would be six credits that MCV students lose out on from the 120 total they need to graduate, and six credits they would have to make up somewhere else. Be it in the form of money, stress, or time, Hird said an added cost would be incurred somewhere along the line.

So ultimately, “crediting those first two years is essential to making it financially successful to the Board of Trustees,” Hird said.

In addition to being bound by the decision of the Board of Trustees, the university is in fact beholden to the Department of Defense through a contract to teach the ROTC classes, Hird said.

Laid out in the brief to the UCC, the agreement states that the curriculum for ROTC courses should be reviewed by the university “on the same basis as other institutional courses.” The caveat is, “If credit is questioned, the institution shall recommend adjustments that would make the courses credit-worthy.”

No prior recommendations have been given to the National College of Services, despite no credit being formerly given, which is what has sparked the request by the ROTC colonels. “That’s what we are asking from the UCC,” Kuckuk said, “to accept our courses for credit, or to tell us how we can improve our courses to make them credit-worthy.”

However, even if the lower courses are credited as free electives, it is likely that the current limit of six ROTC credits being used as free electives will stay in place. “One of the ideas of electives is to broaden people’s education, allowing them to explore different minors,” said Byrne, “[The UCC] don’t think it’s a good idea to allow someone who has 18 credits of free electives to have all of them be ROTC.

The military professors stated that changing the requirement for non-seeking cadets by no means bars them from participating in upper level courses. Hird was quick to point out that of the students enrolled in his junior level aerospace science class, many of the top students were cadets not pursuing commissions. “I don’t want to see them go because they bring a diversity of thought,” he said.

So for a cadet desiring extra leadership knowledge and application, the chance to take advanced ROTC courses is still readily available. But for cadets who face the increased workload of junior classes only to satisfy school and corps requirements, the plight is heard. “Let’s call it good and let [non-contracting cadets] decide as young adults where their priority is,” Hird said.

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