The Mansfield Committee (a.k.a. The Joint Committee on NROTC)

The Joint Committee on NROTC, popularly known as the Mansfield Committee, was chaired by Harvey Mansfield, a Professor of Government. It was established on October 26, 1968 by the Executive Committee of the Faculty, and was comprised of ten faculty and five students. Peter Sordillo (CC) and Stephen Wang (SEAS) represented the undergraduate populations, while Richard Bates (Science), Norman Mandelbaum (Science), and Sylvana Foa (Journalism) were graduate students. The Committee submitted its report to the faculties of Columbia College, SEAS, and General Studies on March 14th, 1969. 

The Mansfield Committee was not unanimous in its recommendations. Thirteen of the fifteen committee members recommended a termination of Columbia’s NROTC program as it then stood, so that the program could be restructured to incorporate a number of recommendations. The specific recommendations were that:

  • NROTC courses should only carry credit towards degree requirements if also listed in the offerings of a regular academic department.
  • Personnel assigned to training program were not to be ex-officio members of any faculty of the university and would not hold academic rank unless appointed under regular procedures.
  • University might provide office and administrative space for NROTC but should not allocate free space for drill or instructional purposes, whether or not for academic credit.
  • The contract between Navy and NROTC student regarding service time should be modified to resemble a National Defense Education Act loan—whereby a student would be allowed to withdraw from the program, subject to the repayment of those funds provided to the student by the Navy.

Catalogue of Views

The majority of the Committee felt that the activities of the University should be determined by the degree to which they contribute or detract from its core purposes of instruction and research; and that the university should afford public and community service consistent with its character and subject to its basic functions of instruction and research. In cataloguing the basis for its recommendations, the Committee summarized various views and opinions it encountered during its deliberations, including:

  • An argument that one of the University’s goals is to promote freedom of inquiry and critical thinking, while the military thrives on unquestioning discipline and discourages the questioning of basic assumptions. As such, military engagement could be at tension with the University’s goals.
  • A direct quote from a campus group, the Students for a Free Society, expressing that “… institutional neutrality is the foundation of academic freedom and must be maintained.... By maintaining an NROTC program the University neither endorses nor opposes any particular government policy…Since the option to join NROTC is entirely a matter of free choice, questions of morality should nor enter into the dialogue at all…”
  • A sentiment that was expressed by the Committee on ROTC at Princeton, with which some members of the Mansfield committee agreed, that “as long as there is national need for the existence of military forces, it is important that there be military officers with the kind of broad liberal education which…[the University] provides.”

In discussing their rationale, the Committee found consensus on certain issues:

  • The Mansfield Committee believed that NROTC instructors, who were sent to Columbia on a limited tour of duty, remained first and foremost professional military officers with primary loyalty to the Navy. As such, they could not at the same time have a primary commitment to Columbia or to academic inquiry.
  • A majority of the Committee felt that providing academic credit for NROTC courses inappropriately exposed students “to possible conflicts of interest between free inquiry and loyalty to external commitments.”

Other Concerns and Views

  • One member of the committee viewed the service contract associated with the Navy’s substantial financial aid as limiting the academic freedom of participating students.
  • A member of the committee, Norman Mandelbaum, felt that the University should not include training that could be preparatory to human destruction.

Position of Undergraduate Students

Five members of the committee, including both Stephen Wang and Peter Sordillo, endorsed a minority statement, reproduced below:

Statement C

We, the undersigned members of the Committee on NROTC, have signed the preceding document in the sense that it is a factual report of the deliberations of the Committee and the disagreements in principle which arose therefrom. Although we endorse many of the constructive proposals contained in the four recommendations, we reject completely their negative sense. We urge the University to reaffirm its commitment to maintain a viable NROTC program, consonant with the highest academic standards of Columbia, for its students. We wish to see a better and more useful program at Columbia—not its elimination.

We view the NROTC program as a service to a significant number of its undergraduate students who wish to prepare for military service while completing the requirements for the first college degree rather than afterwards.

We also recognize that there is a substantial body of faculty and student opinion which regards the maintenance of the NROTC program on campus as a form of "public service." We furthermore accept as a criterion for such public service functions of the University, the simple guideline put forward by the Henkin Committee, namely:

"The University should afford public and community services consistent with its character as a university and subject to its basic functions of instruction and research."

We realize that there is a body of faculty and student opinion which regards the NROTC program as "inconsistent with the character of the University." From the evidence received by the Committee. we have concluded that this opinion is neither correct nor shared by the majority. We also believe that the current concern with the NROTC program reflects much more a response to an assault by a small minority on the campus who have chosen to use this as an admittedly incidental but useful issue in a greater struggle. We do not accept this as a valid basis for terminating the program.

Our views on the specific issues covered by the four recommendations in the Committee report are amplified below:

Course of Instruction

Courses of instruction should be offered in the University only where there is both student demand and educational value. Instructional activities dealing with specific aspects of military training which are limited in appeal or educational value should be remanded to the administrators of the NROTC program for extra-curricular or summer operations.

It follows, as a matter of operational control. that any and all courses for which credit is to be granted toward the several degrees awarded by the faculties of Columbia University must under the full control of those faculties. Furthermore appropriate catalog space should be provided for all such courses.

Faculty Appointments

All courses offered under the faculties of the University should be taught by regularly appointed instructors selected for their knowledge of the subject and ability to present it. It follows that we oppose the granting of faculty appointments to the staff of the NROTC merely because they are members of that program. It also follows that no officer assigned to the NROTC program should be denied a faculty appointment if he is qualified to receive one according to the same criteria used for other faculty members


In accepting the view that the maintenance of an NROTC program on campus constitutes a legitimate activity for the University and is not inconsistent with its basic functions, we recommend that the University continue to make available to the program such space as is needed for administration of the program, advising and counseling, and for meetings and instruction of students enrolled in the program.


We strongly support the proposal, contained in the fourth recommendation of the Committee's report. suggesting that the existing contract policy be revised toward an education loan arrangement for NROTC candidates.

Harold Elrod
Elmer L. Gaden, Jr.
S. Perry Schlesinger
Peter Sordillo
Stephen Wang

1969 University Resolution

Following the submission of the Mansfield Committee report, the University Council of Columbia University passed a resolution terminating Columbia’s relationship with the Navy and adopting the majority recommendations of the Committee with regard to implementing a future NROTC program. The resolution is excerpted below (a full version can be found in “Useful Documents”):

  1. After this academic year, any course offered as part of the naval training program shall carry credit toward the satisfaction of degree requirements only if it is also listed in the offerings of a regular academic department.
  2. Personnel assigned to the training program as instructors shall not be ex officio members of any faculty of the University, and shall not hold academic rank unless appointed according to regular procedures.
  3. The University may furnish office space and related facilities to the Navy for the administration of a counseling' service to students in connection with an NROTC program, but shall not allocate free space on campus to the Navy for drill or for instructional purposes, whether or not for academic credit.
  4. The contract between the Navy and a student enrolled in an NROTC program should, like an NDEA loan, permit him to withdraw upon repayment (or provision for repayment within a reasonable period) of sums the Navy has laid out for his education, without the punitive service liabilities now contingently applicable; nor should the contract require the student to forgo the exercise of ordinary civil rights, like marriage. *

* It is no longer the case that ROTC/NROTC candidates without a prior service contract could be compelled to serve as an enlisted soldier upon withdrawal. Candidates who withdraw may be compelled to repay any funds received, but do not incur a service requirement. This is not true, however, for those candidates who had previously served as enlisted soldiers and received an early termination conditioned upon completing College/ROTC—in such cases, candidates may be required to satisfy the remainder of their unfulfilled prior contract. Additionally, no restrictions are placed on a candidates’ ability to marry.