Guest Commentary — USD and the ROTC

By Kim Clodfelter


On Oct. 2, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the closing of Army ROTC at the University of South Dakota effective the end of the 2014-2015 academic year. USD is one of only 13 universities across the nation thus affected.  South Dakota State University (Army and Air Force ROTC) and South Dakota School of Mines (Army ROTC) will retain their programs.

Five weeks after the Oct. 2 closure announcement, the DoD backpedaled and placed USD and the other 12 universities on probation for two years — in all likelihood due to protests from congressional leaders representing their respective states.

Although welcome news for USD’s ROTC leaders, the DoD has yet to finalize the criteria required for reinstatement.

What makes the potential closing of USD’s ROTC program especially significant is the fact that South Dakota would be the only state to have its flagship university denied an ROTC program. The border states of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wyoming would all maintain an ROTC presence at their flagship universities.

USD is consistently ranked among the best universities in the nation. A USD press release dated Aug 6, 2013, noted, “The Princeton Review cites USD as ‘one of the nation’s best’ for the 15th consecutive year… USD is the lone South Dakota college or university featured in ‘The Best 378 Colleges: 2014 Edition.’” USD’s School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, and Beacom School of Business have also received high national rankings.

In its “America’s 2013 Top College Edition,” Forbes ranked USD as a “Best Value College” – one of only 25 colleges named. USD also received the coveted designation as being a Military Friendly University for the third straight year in 2013.

The DoD’s rationale for closing these ROTC programs is related to diversity in geographics, academics and demographics. The DoD is looking to such cities such as New York, Chicago and L.A. to expand an ROTC presence for both geographic and demographic reasons. The DoD is also focusing on universities with academic majors in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). This gives advantage to SDSU and School of Mines – schools offering degrees in engineering.

USD is a liberal arts university offering degrees in fields of study such as Health Sciences, Law, Criminal Justice, Business, Psychology, International Studies and a variety of other liberal arts majors. The military needs doctors, lawyers, nurses, military police, psychologists, accountants and a host of other professionals USD educates. USD is home to South Dakota’s only medical school and law school.

In its determination of which ROTC programs to close, the DoD placed heavy emphasis on the military’s need to best allocate limited resources.

However, the DoD must pay tuition and fees for cadets wherever they attend school. If a cadet attends a “Best Value College” like USD, the DoD will pay about $8,000 in tuition and fees for one year – or $32,000 for four years. If the student instead attends a private university like Marquette University (a member of the 3rd ROTC Brigade along with USD), the DoD will pay about $34,000 in tuition and fees per year or $136,000 for four years. Harvard tuition and fees costs $42,000 per year or $168,000 over four years.

“How does the Army save money sending ROTC students to Harvard?” noted USD’s former ROTC Commander, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Tom Martin. “How is that the best use of Army resources? … It just doesn’t pass the ‘Common Sense Test.’”

It is apparent the DoD needs good mathematicians. As it turns out, Affordable Colleges Online ranks USD’s as one of the most affordable universities to obtain a high quality degree in mathematics.

South Dakota’s young men and women seeking to take advantage of USD’s unique educational opportunities will now be forced to go elsewhere if they wish to take advantage of the training and benefits of ROTC.

USD’s Army ROTC Program has a long and distinguished tradition of producing quality officers for more than 90 years. USD alum and Vermillion native United States Sen. Tim Johnson (D) participated in Army ROTC while a student at USD. The Department of Defense, led by Secretary of Defense and former Nebraska U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, admittedly did not consider quality or tradition in determining which ROTC Programs to close.

South Dakota’s lone U.S. representative, Kristi Noem (R), currently sits on the House Armed Services Committee. Noem, a South Dakota State University alum, also serves as a member of the Military Personnel Subcommittee which is responsible for Military Education.

Whether South Dakota will hold the distinction of being the only state in the union without an ROTC presence at its flagship university remains to be seen.

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