Sunday, November 14, 2010

Over There, Over There; Or, Where Are All The Soldiers On Your Campus?

Where are the demobilized soldiers on your campus? Well it depends on where you teach.  But if you are at a top liberal arts school, chances are they are "over there" at a community college.

According to Wick Sloane, writing for Inside Higher Ed, when it comes to enrolling veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, elite colleges have to admit that those students aren't there.  Zenith made a big announcement a couple of years ago that it was going to reserve a single spot in each entering class for a demobilized soldier, but we haven't heard much about it since, and -- well, is one spot enough?  I would think not, particularly when you consider the difficulty of creating relationships with other young people who (blessedly) haven't experienced anything more violent than a car accident or a football game.  Bunker Hill Community College, where Sloane teaches, enrolls almost 350 veterans; between them, Harvard and Yale enroll 4 (surprisingly, Mount Holyoke, a women's school which is about the size of one entering class at Harvard or Yale) enrolls 3 veterans. The College of William & Mary (a state-funded institution that enrolls over 8,000 undergraduates and graduate students) is at the top of the list with 24.  Several institutions wouldn't answer the question, which I thought was rather small of them.

In response, one veteran writes in the comments section that the sentiment for inclusion is laudable, but in practical terms, elite colleges price themselves out of the average soldier's range and may not offer what they need. "Many [people] can't afford college and therefore enlist in the military either as a career move or to take advantage of the educational benefits, [t]he latter of which was my reason for joining," he observes.  "Even with the assistance of the GI Bill and other veteran's benefits they cannot afford the selective institutions. I, coming from middle class family, simply could not afford to even look at many of the selective institutions. Yes, I had the test scores and the high school GPA to get in but there was no way I could have ever hoped to afford the sticker price, even with my educational assistance."  A second reason, he argues, is that after two years in the military, many soldiers want to get on the fast track to a career and want a more "professional education" than a liberal arts college provides.

This all sounds right to me, and yet shouldn't elite schools be trying harder?  It's difficult to believe that if elite schools tried to recruit students from the military they couldn't do it, and that schools with massive endowments couldn't commit some of that money to helping soldiers take on the burden of elite tuition and fees.  War veterans can present a challenge in terms of the physical and emotional burdens they bring back from combat, but meeting those challenges would cause schools to be more generally thoughtful about what they do not yet do well for all students.  Furthermore, not all veterans have been in combat, but many have gained the kind of maturity, ambition and discipline that would make them valuable members of any class.

I am curious about what it will mean for this current generation of students to know so little about a war that has altered the lives of many Americans in their age cohort, not to mention millions of people in the Middle east and South Asia.  For those historians who are making a list of why the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are different from other wars, add to that the ten years of elite college students who will go into the world, and into policy-making positions, only vaguely understanding the ways in which war alters communities, marriages, families, and individual lives. They will make decisions, in fact, that send the next generation to war without having understood this one in anything but an abstract way.

Addendum:  this week's required reading about the relationship between teaching, the liberal arts and military service is Craig Mullaney's The Unforgiving Minute:  A Soldier's Education (Penguin Press, 2009.0

22 comments:

Historiann said...

As someone who teaches at a big state Aggie school, we have a large number of vets. (I've also noticed a corresponding increase in the number of students in wheelchairs on my very access-unfriendly campus. Coincidence? Maybe. But I doubt it.) Even this Marxist feminist scholar has had a number in my classes, from lower-division classes through upper-level lecture courses and seminars for majors.

To a man, with only one exception I can think of, these vets are on top of their stuff like no 18- and 19-year olds who've just left their family homes. They are more serious, more reliable, brighter, and have more of a sense of purpose than most other students. It's not just that they're older, of course. I think it's also due to the fact that they've seen and done things that the vast majority of us faculty never have and never will.

susan said...

My former campus was a comprehensive urban institution that had a lot of students who had come there after military service (or while in the reserves). My current campus, a small state u, doesn't have much of military presence on campus (although there is a ROTC program, I don't see much evidence of it except when they are packing up for a trip and have lots of gear outside their house). My experience with military students mirrors Historiann's--those students (like the older, working students one sees at a comprehensive u) brought a ton into the classroom. It was so valuable for looking at the broader implications of our assignments.

Dartmouth's former president, James Wright, helped start a program to help severely injured soldiers return to college: http://www.acenet.edu/Content/NavigationMenu/ProgramsServices/MilitaryPrograms/veterans/index.htm

But Dartmouth's own admissions page advice to veterans doesn't sound very encouraging--it suggests they take college courses elsewhere before applying.

Urban Exile said...

Don't know where the vets are going, but having sung for them overseas and gotten all googy-eyed about what great guys and gals they often are, I know any campus would be rewarded to have some on board. Now there are people who know what primary source material is!

I agree with what you say: These upcoming generations are oddly isolated from the reality of war, internet access not withstanding.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Coincidentally, I just posted this today:

http://physioprof.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/military-service/

Knitting Clio said...

We have a significant number of veterans on campus, male and female. I think the issue is not just cost -- because these are older students they often have families. So, a residential SLAC doesn't work for them. Our class schedule has more flexibility in addition to being less expensive per credit.

Anonymous said...

"I am curious about what it will mean for this current generation of students to know so little about a war that has altered the lives of many Americans in their age cohort."

Actually, I'd say that the current generation knows a LOT about these wars. I have many vets in my classes, and most folks that attend our regional 4 year university have friends or family in or formerly in military service. That they are so poorly represented in the elite schools speaks much more about the disconnect of those elite universities and their students than this generation as a whole.

SD said...

As a recent graduate of Columbia, I'd like to add that there is a significant, numerous, and active veteran population on that campus.

Their presence in my social circle and the friendships that have developed increased my personal investment in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The military no longer looks like "them" to this privileged, East coast civilian.

Science Lurker said...

Could this be related to the lack of a draft?

Since the "all-volunteer" army often ends up a de facto economic draft, the enlisted members tend to be predominantly from poorer families. Students from working class families are notoriously under-represented at selective SLACs, and often rather lonely once they arrive.

I refer you, for example, to the thesis of Holly Wood Wes'08, "Beyond Access: Cultural Capital's Increasing Significance in Selective College Admissions. She examines "the role of parents in the college admissions process, and how it is overlooked by sociologists and educationalists in examining why so many low-income and working class students don't end up at schools like Wesleyan and Harvard and Stanford and schools of the like." (Argus Nov. 30th, 2007)

I agree that those who serve their country deserve access to whichever colleges they prefer, but I think there is a lot more going on here.

JoVE said...

You might also find this post interesting: http://www.productiveflourishing.com/a-breakthrough-for-this-vet-on-veterans-day/

The author, Charlie Gilkey, is ABD in Philosophy and served 2 tours in Iraq. I note that he says it has been difficult for him to even talk about his military experience in the academic context. (and vice versa)

He very occasionally blogs about specific experience, often drawing valuable wider lessons. These are usually very powerful posts. And confirm the view of other commentors that vets might have much of value to add to academic discussions.

Charlie Gilkey said...

I'll provide an alternative spin here: the entrenched bias against military professionals within academia has a double effect on this particular issue.

The first effect is that the outreach efforts to include vets are laudable for publicity but laughable in practicality and policy. One spot? How many "spots" are reserved for diversity, accessibility, and other stressed goals from these same universities?

The second effect is that vets themselves have learned to keep their distance from academic intellectuals and perhaps conceal their military background. To be a military professional within the academic institution is to be an outside other, and, depending on the institutions normative views, it's to be an ostracized other.

I speak from my own experience here as a returned vet who was pursuing his PhD in philosophy at a less-than-elite school in a state that generally supports its military professionals. I experienced the culture clash myself, and interviews with my soldiers bore similar experiences from them, as well.

So, yes, price is a major concern, but cultural dynamics is a major one that often goes unaddressed.

We can do better: a competition-based policy that gives a select number of qualified vets a fully-covered ride each year would go a long way to show that the elite universities intend to include and support vets. It would mitigate the price issue while also showing that they're willing to put some skin in the game to support veterans.

One last thing: there's a bias against intellectuals within the military ranks, as well. Apparently, you can be a person of theory or a person of action, but not both. Th rift between these two cultures is a self-perpetuating mess.

Anonymous said...

Dear TR,

I am a longtime reader of your blog, but I have never commented before. I am doing so now only because I found this post disturbing, for reasons that weren’t immediately clear to me, and wanted to make myself articulate those reasons.

This post argues that Zenith and its peer institutions do not make enough of an effort to entice demobilized soldiers to enroll. What I find objectionable is the set of unstated premises on which this claim rests. Foremost among these is the assumption that enlisting in the United States military is a morally neutral choice, even a commendable one. I think that in light of that military’s actions in the years since the Second World War this would be a difficult claim to defend. Indeed, I am curious to know how you would defend it, since I know from reading this blog that there would be no resort to the jingoistic posturing and falsification of history usually involved in its defense.

Perhaps, though, you wouldn’t wish to defend this claim at all. In that case, why the need for organized recruitment of veterans as a group, if the only thing that unites this group is something that we can agree to be morally objectionable? It is not an answer to this question to point to the exigencies under which this objectionable choice is generally made (economic compulsion, etc.).

I can only suppose that the rationale underlying this post is that veteran status serves as a proxy for class disadvantage. I don’t know why we need that proxy, though. What purpose would be served by special measures to attract veterans over and above the things that colleges and universities should be doing (but mostly aren’t) to make education accessible to everyone? The only such purpose that comes to mind is that of normalizing participation in state-sponsored violence.

Tenured Radical said...

I don't think enlisting in the military is a morally neutral choice, but I don't think the position of many elite college students -- getting all the benefits of imperialism and the capitalist world system while not having to look at or deal with the consequences -- is a morally neutral one either. Why shouldn't the two groups meet in a classroom? Why should the veterans be excluded from the best education there is because they don't know how or can't afford to access it?

Are top schools only for the pure of heart? Many of our alumni/ae would make it hard to support that claim.

While I wouldn't say that military service is a proxy for class, I do think the yawning economic divide that sends some people's children into the military and other people's children to Zenith is also worth pointing up. Public high school students are the object of intense recruiting in secondary institutions where kids are tracked early on to go to college or not. Those in the lower tracks who want to make something of themselves have few choices other than the military; kids in college track with no money may be cutting what you think is a devil's deal. But what does the son of a hedge fund manager whose tuition is paid by Iraqi oil futures or UTI have to feel clean about?

Flavia said...

I'm at a regional comprehensive college, and I see a number of veterans, both male and female. More than the veterans, though, are the number of students I have who have spouses, fiances, or siblings who are recently back from the wars (and whom I hear about periodically, usually for sad reasons).

Since my former partner teaches at a military academy, I'd already done a lot of thinking about the way our current wars are likely to shape the next generation and had disabused myself of any presumptions about who joins the military, and why. But seeing the veterans themselves and their families and partners has brought it home in a new way.

The long-term effects on this country of such a huge number of returning veterans and their families surely can't be predicted. But I wonder about those effects, and I worry. I worry especially because most people in my "class" (for lack of a better word) seem not to know any veterans, or have much of a sense of what they and their lives might be like. That division can't be good.

Anonymous said...

[Anonymous 4:22 again]

Dear TR,

Thanks for your thoughtful response to my comment. Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. I didn’t suggest that veterans ought to be “excluded” from any institution, or that it was desirable, or possible, that some test of moral purity be used to screen applicants to any institution.

All I intended to say was this. When we say that it is important that some group be represented on campus, implicit in that claim is the assumption, among others, that the characteristic that defines that group is neutral (e.g. having a disability) or good (e.g. being able to play the oboe well). The characteristic “having enlisted in the military” is neither of these.

Many veterans have, as individuals, all sorts of things to offer a campus community. Those individuals should be welcomed on campus for the sake of those things. To discriminate against veterans would be unethical and counterproductive (and illegal, in the United States). But to suggest that past participation in the military is in itself a trait that the university or college ought to value is to cross from non-discrimination into endorsement of that participation.

TR: I don't think enlisting in the military is a morally neutral choice, but I don't think the position of many elite college students -- getting all the benefits of imperialism and the capitalist world system while not having to look at or deal with the consequences -- is a morally neutral one either.

Of course not, which is why you wouldn’t say that the characteristic “getting all the benefits of imperialism and the capitalist world system while not having to look at or deal with the consequences” is one that should be better represented on campus, or that people who fall into that category are ceteris paribus better candidates for admission than those who don’t.

(continued)

Anonymous said...

[Anonymous 4:22 again, continued]

TR: Why shouldn't the two groups meet in a classroom?

Here I might mention another part of your original post which I found troubling and didn’t address earlier. In the last paragraph of the original post, you worried that the dearth of veterans on elite campuses means that graduates of those schools will “know .. little about a war that has altered the lives of many Americans in their age cohort, not to mention millions of people in the Middle east and South Asia.” Doubtless this is true, but is ignorance of what the war is like for other Americans really the core problem here? After all, there are many articles, books, movies, etc. written by former soldiers in these conflicts or in some way incorporating their perspective, but very few written by, or even attempting to reconstruct the perspective of, people from the two countries that have been devastated by these wars. Isn’t that the perspective we should be trying to bring into the classroom, not that of the armed aggressor?

TR: Why should the veterans be excluded from the best education there is because they don't know how or can't afford to access it?

They shouldn’t be, of course. But the group of people so excluded is not coextensive with veterans. If it’s economic and social exclusion from higher education we’re concerned about, which of course it is, let’s talk about that directly.

TR: Are top schools only for the pure of heart? Many of our alumni/ae would make it hard to support that claim.

They would indeed, and no one, least of all me, would make that claim. But there is a difference between not demanding that students be “pure of heart” and selecting for participation in a fundamentally immoral enterprise.

TR: While I wouldn't say that military service is a proxy for class, I do think the yawning economic divide that sends some people's children into the military and other people's children to Zenith is also worth pointing up. Public high school students are the object of intense recruiting in secondary institutions where kids are tracked early on to go to college or not. Those in the lower tracks who want to make something of themselves have few choices other than the military; kids in college track with no money may be cutting what you think is a devil's deal.

I would say that we need to help everyone caught on the wrong side of that divide to get the education they need, regardless of how they’ve responded to the pressure to join the military. Your position seems to be that among that population we should make a priority of getting onto campus those who enlisted. If I’ve misunderstood, and your position’s the same as mine, why the emphasis on what veterans as such can contribute on campus? If my characterization of your position is correct, though, here’s what I find puzzling, in light of what I’ve come to know of your politics over the time I’ve read this blog: veterans are given assistance in paying for college that others have no access to. Veterans are better off, as far as paying for college is concerned, than comparably situated non-veterans. Yet it is the relatively privileged population, whose relative privilege derives from its knowing participation in wars of aggression (however exculpatory we may judge the attendant circumstances to be), whose “exclusion” is the topic here.

TR: But what does the son of a hedge fund manager whose tuition is paid by Iraqi oil futures or UTI have to feel clean about?

Nothing, of course. But no one of goodwill is suggesting that individuals in that category be sought out as applicants, simply because they meet that description.

Anonymous said...

[Anonymous 4:22 again, continued]

TR: Why shouldn't the two groups meet in a classroom?

Here I might mention another part of your original post which I found troubling and didn’t address earlier. In the last paragraph of the original post, you worried that the dearth of veterans on elite campuses means that graduates of those schools will “know .. little about a war that has altered the lives of many Americans in their age cohort, not to mention millions of people in the Middle east and South Asia.” Doubtless this is true, but is ignorance of what the war is like for other Americans really the core problem here? After all, there are many articles, books, movies, etc. written by former soldiers in these conflicts or in some way incorporating their perspective, but very few written by, or even attempting to reconstruct the perspective of, people from the two countries that have been devastated by these wars. Isn’t that the perspective we should be trying to bring into the classroom, not that of the armed aggressor?

TR: Why should the veterans be excluded from the best education there is because they don't know how or can't afford to access it?

They shouldn’t be, of course. But the group of people so excluded is not coextensive with veterans. If it’s economic and social exclusion from higher education we’re concerned about, which of course it is, let’s talk about that directly.

TR: Are top schools only for the pure of heart? Many of our alumni/ae would make it hard to support that claim.

They would indeed, and no one, least of all me, would make that claim. But there is a difference between not demanding that students be “pure of heart” and selecting for participation in a fundamentally immoral enterprise.

TR: While I wouldn't say that military service is a proxy for class, I do think the yawning economic divide that sends some people's children into the military and other people's children to Zenith is also worth pointing up. Public high school students are the object of intense recruiting in secondary institutions where kids are tracked early on to go to college or not. Those in the lower tracks who want to make something of themselves have few choices other than the military; kids in college track with no money may be cutting what you think is a devil's deal.

I would say that we need to help everyone caught on the wrong side of that divide to get the education they need, regardless of how they’ve responded to the pressure to join the military. Your position seems to be that among that population we should make a priority of getting onto campus those who enlisted. If I’ve misunderstood, and your position’s the same as mine, why the emphasis on what veterans as such can contribute on campus? If my characterization of your position is correct, though, here’s what I find puzzling, in light of what I’ve come to know of your politics over the time I’ve read this blog: veterans are given assistance in paying for college that others have no access to. Veterans are better off, as far as paying for college is concerned, than comparably situated non-veterans. Yet it is the relatively privileged population, whose relative privilege derives from its knowing participation in wars of aggression (however exculpatory we may judge the attendant circumstances to be), whose “exclusion” is the topic here.

TR: But what does the son of a hedge fund manager whose tuition is paid by Iraqi oil futures or UTI have to feel clean about?

Nothing, of course. But no one of goodwill is suggesting that individuals in that category be sought out as applicants, simply because they meet that description.

Anonymous said...

[Anonymous 4:22 again, continued]

TR: Why shouldn't the two groups meet in a classroom?

Here I might mention another part of your original post which I found troubling and didn’t address earlier. In the last paragraph of the original post, you worried that the dearth of veterans on elite campuses means that graduates of those schools will “know .. little about a war that has altered the lives of many Americans in their age cohort, not to mention millions of people in the Middle east and South Asia.” Doubtless this is true, but is ignorance of what the war is like for other Americans really the core problem here? After all, there are many articles, books, movies, etc. written by former soldiers in these conflicts or in some way incorporating their perspective, but very few written by, or even attempting to reconstruct the perspective of, people from the two countries that have been devastated by these wars. Isn’t that the perspective we should be trying to bring into the classroom, not that of the armed aggressor?

TR: Why should the veterans be excluded from the best education there is because they don't know how or can't afford to access it?

They shouldn’t be, of course. But the group of people so excluded is not coextensive with veterans. If it’s economic and social exclusion from higher education we’re concerned about, which of course it is, let’s talk about that directly.

TR: Are top schools only for the pure of heart? Many of our alumni/ae would make it hard to support that claim.

They would indeed, and no one, least of all me, would make that claim. But there is a difference between not demanding that students be “pure of heart” and selecting for participation in a fundamentally immoral enterprise.

TR: While I wouldn't say that military service is a proxy for class, I do think the yawning economic divide that sends some people's children into the military and other people's children to Zenith is also worth pointing up. Public high school students are the object of intense recruiting in secondary institutions where kids are tracked early on to go to college or not. Those in the lower tracks who want to make something of themselves have few choices other than the military; kids in college track with no money may be cutting what you think is a devil's deal.

I would say that we need to help everyone caught on the wrong side of that divide to get the education they need, regardless of how they’ve responded to the pressure to join the military. Your position seems to be that among that population we should make a priority of getting onto campus those who enlisted. If I’ve misunderstood, and your position’s the same as mine, why the emphasis on what veterans as such can contribute on campus? If my characterization of your position is correct, though, here’s what I find puzzling, in light of what I’ve come to know of your politics over the time I’ve read this blog: veterans are given assistance in paying for college that others have no access to. Veterans are better off, as far as paying for college is concerned, than comparably situated non-veterans. Yet it is the relatively privileged population, whose relative privilege derives from its knowing participation in wars of aggression (however exculpatory we may judge the attendant circumstances to be), whose “exclusion” is the topic here.

TR: But what does the son of a hedge fund manager whose tuition is paid by Iraqi oil futures or UTI have to feel clean about?

Nothing, of course. But no one of goodwill is suggesting that individuals in that category be sought out as applicants, simply because they meet that description.

Anonymous said...

[Anonymous 4:22 again, continued]

TR: Why shouldn't the two groups meet in a classroom?

Here I might mention another part of your original post which I found troubling and didn’t address earlier. In the last paragraph of the original post, you worried that the dearth of veterans on elite campuses means that graduates of those schools will “know .. little about a war that has altered the lives of many Americans in their age cohort, not to mention millions of people in the Middle east and South Asia.” Doubtless this is true, but is ignorance of what the war is like for other Americans really the core problem here? After all, there are many articles, books, movies, etc. written by former soldiers in these conflicts or in some way incorporating their perspective, but very few written by, or even attempting to reconstruct the perspective of, people from the two countries that have been devastated by these wars. Isn’t that the perspective we should be trying to bring into the classroom, not that of the armed aggressor?

TR: Why should the veterans be excluded from the best education there is because they don't know how or can't afford to access it?

They shouldn’t be, of course. But the group of people so excluded is not coextensive with veterans. If it’s economic and social exclusion from higher education we’re concerned about, which of course it is, let’s talk about that directly.

TR: Are top schools only for the pure of heart? Many of our alumni/ae would make it hard to support that claim.

They would indeed, and no one, least of all me, would make that claim. But there is a difference between not demanding that students be “pure of heart” and selecting for participation in a fundamentally immoral enterprise.

Anonymous said...

[Anonymous 4:22 again, continued]

TR: While I wouldn't say that military service is a proxy for class, I do think the yawning economic divide that sends some people's children into the military and other people's children to Zenith is also worth pointing up. Public high school students are the object of intense recruiting in secondary institutions where kids are tracked early on to go to college or not. Those in the lower tracks who want to make something of themselves have few choices other than the military; kids in college track with no money may be cutting what you think is a devil's deal.

I would say that we need to help everyone caught on the wrong side of that divide to get the education they need, regardless of how they’ve responded to the pressure to join the military. Your position seems to be that among that population we should make a priority of getting those who enlisted onto campus. If I’ve misunderstood, and your position’s the same as mine, why all the emphasis on what veterans as such can contribute on campus? If my characterization of your position is correct, though, here’s what I find puzzling, in light of what I’ve come to know of your politics over the time I’ve read this blog: veterans are given assistance in paying for college that others have no access to. Veterans are better off, as far as paying for college is concerned, than comparably situated non-veterans. Yet it is the relatively privileged population, whose relative privilege derives from its knowing participation in wars of aggression (however exculpatory we may judge the attendant circumstances to be), whose “exclusion” is the topic here.


TR: But what does the son of a hedge fund manager whose tuition is paid by Iraqi oil futures or UTI have to feel clean about?

Nothing, of course. But no one of goodwill is suggesting that individuals in that category be sought out as applicants, simply because they meet that description.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tenured Radical, I love your blog and read it all the time. As an Army veteran and graduate of Wesleyan, this article really hits home. I agree that more needs to be done to recruit veterans to campuses…not quite sure what is needed, though. As far as I know, I was one of two on campus but that’s unconfirmed. For me the single most important consideration was cost. Upon separation from the Army, I enrolled at a community college because it was free for all CT veterans, and I needed to build my academic skill set and confidence. I am not sure what my future plans were at that point but I can tell you honestly it did not entail Wesleyan, as I had never even heard of it.
That all changed when a retiring English professor (a Wes alumna) suggested that I look into liberal arts schools, specifically Wesleyan. I eventually did but thought it was out of my league, both academically and financially. She knew otherwise and persuaded me to apply despite my reservations. She guided me through the entire process. Wesleyan was incredibly generous and academically supportive. I was fortunate to have a mentor to provide insight and guidance and would have probably missed out on a great education if not for her. Anyway, I am quite certain that I learned more from my peers than they did from me. I had a different perspective and maybe a little more maturity (not much).
I want to share this little funny story. While I was sitting in on an intro government class, the professor poked fun of an old GI Bill commercial in which a female student (and paratrooper) made reference to jumping out of planes while she was in the military. The professor commented cynically that you just don’t see that here at Wesleyan. He would have been correct 90% of the time. But, imagine his surprise when I approached him after class and told him that I was a former paratrooper. It still makes me chuckle.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Anonymous: glad your experience at Wes was positive, and that one of my colleagues cared enough to reach out and encourage you. Your story points up an important rule for teachers too, which is that you never know exactly who your audience is!

shane said...

In case you missed it, and relevant to this post in obvious ways:

Community College in Maryland Suspends Veteran Who Wrote About Addiction to Combat