Monday, November 11, 2013

Urban bias in closure of ROTC programs (but wasn't the military supposed to be a rural stronghold?)

The New York Times reported a few days ago that the U.S. Army is reversing a decision announced a few weeks ago to close 15 ROTC programs in 2015.  Most of the programs slated for closure were in "rural" states or, more precisely, in nonmetropolitan areas, and most were also in the South.  Those programs, including the one at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro, population 67,263, and Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, population 30,435, have been placed on "probationary status," the meaning of which is unclear.  The Army reported selecting these programs for closure because they commission fewer than 15 officers a year and because it needs to respond to "the nation's new demographic landscape" and focus on 56 other markets like New York and Chicago.

Journalist Alan Blinder reports that the response from the universities--and politicians--was swift:
But many of the universities, often backed by their congressional delegations and influential alumni, waged spirited campaigns to keep their programs and contended that the Army’s plan would eliminate academic and career opportunities for students from rural areas. Frustrated by what he said was a lack of transparency by the Army about the decisions, Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, blocked a nomination for a senior Pentagon job.
The story quotes Dr. Tim Hudson, chancellor of Arkansas State University, which was threatened with loss of its 77-year-old ROTC program:
We appreciate the fact that the Army was willing to review the decision it had made.  We intend to work hard. We intend to improve what we’re doing. 
Dr. Hudson also commented on ASU's efforts to forge a stronger relationship with the military “that will allow us to understand better their expectations.”

The change at ASU and elsewhere would have forced some cadets to alter their plans for higher education and military service.  They would have been the first programs closed since 1998.  

What is surprising about the proposed closures is the fact that a disproportionate number of military recruits come from rural areas.  Maybe the move signals a military inclination to take enlisted men and women, but not officers, from nonmetropolitan places.  Read more about that here and here.

Oh, and Happy Veteran's Day.  The Center for Rural Strategies sent an email with this message today re honoring rural veterans:
Nearly half the men and women in military service have rural roots. Too often rural veterans don't get the attention, resources and respect they deserve. 
Please honor them by joining 10,000 Friends of Rural America. If you have already become a Friend, encourage your family, friends and neighbors to join.
The email included a link to this site re: appreciating and supporting rural communities more generally.

Here is a recent USDA ERS report on the 4 million veterans who live in rural America.  Those veterans comprise more than a tenth of all rural adults.  

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