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Navy, Columbia Univ. to ink pact for ROTC's return

The U.S. Navy and Columbia University will sign an agreement allowing the ROTC back onto campus for the first time since the military training program was banned amid Vietnam War protests, the university said Wednesday.

Student and faculty leaders voted in April to allow the Reserve Officers Training Corps back after the U.S. military dropped its ban on openly gay soldiers.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and university president Lee C. Bollinger will sign the agreement aboard the USS Iwo Jima as part of New York's annual Fleet Week on Thursday, the university said in a written statement. The Navy confirmed the agreement.

"We are looking forward to the ceremony and the continued partnership with Columbia," said Lt. Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence, a Navy spokeswoman.

Under the agreement, the Navy will have an office in the university's campus on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Recruits will train at the State University of New York's Maritime College in the Bronx.

Columbia already participates in Army and Air Force ROTC programs, as well as the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, but none of those programs has space on Columbia property.

Army ROTC students train at Fordham University and the Air Force ROTC at Manhattan College. Marine Corps officer candidates attend courses at a school in Quantico, Va.

On April 1 the Columbia University Senate voted 51-17 with one abstention to allow the ROTC back on campus, joining other Ivy League schools that have warmed up to the military following the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays from the military. Harvard also lifted its ban last month.

"I have confidence that, with the return of ROTC, Columbia will be an even more valuable forum for enhancing the relationship between our military and civil society in the years ahead," Bollinger said in an April 22 letter to faculty, students and alumni.

"Our university community has held months of campus discussion, open forums and a strongly favorable vote in the University Senate and University's Council of Deans, concluding that the time has come for Columbia to formalize the recognition of ROTC on our campus and thereby add to the diversity of choices for education and public service we make available to our students," said university spokesman Robert Hornsby in a statement Wednesday.

The ROTC has units at more than 300 campuses nationwide. The program recruits college students and gives them officer positions after graduation.

Columbia banned the program in 1969 amid student protests over the Vietnam War. Protesters organized student strikes and occupied a main building on the campus.

Columbia's chapter of Students for a Democratic Society also spawned the militant group The Weathermen.

In 2005 the University Senate had voted 53-10 to keep the ROTC out.

Thursday's agreement will be signed aboard the USS Iowa Jima, an amphibious assault ship that served in the invasion of Iraq, relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina and the evacuation of U.S. citizens during the 2006 war in Lebanon.

The ship is in New York for Fleet Week, when U.S. naval ships dock in the city and sailors are given shore leave to see the sights.

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