"In an increasingly complex global security environment, America needs military leaders able to adapt on a full spectrum, which means officers who are creative critical thinkers and lifelong learners with the best possible academic foundation," he said. "Columbia already hosts innovative cross-cutting programs that rely upon the special reach and multi-dimensional resources of a global flagship university in a world city."
Columbia ousted the program in 1969 in protest of the Vietnam War. But with the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" the university has begun discussions to consider bringing it back.
"It effectively ends what has been a vexing problem for higher education, including at Columbia -- given our desire to be open to our military, but not wanting to violate our own core principle against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," said Columbia University president Lee Bollinger in a statement. "We now have the opportunity for a new era in the relationship between universities and our military services."
An advisory committee plans to survey Columbia students and hold hearings on ROTC's return. The University senate would ultimately need to approve reinstatement of the program.
But some skeptics of the military program say keeping it off campus is about more than "don't ask don't tell" or anti-war sentiment.
"Don't ask don't tell was one of the concerns the faculty has had, but there are others," said Stanford University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin.
Faculty at Stanford and other schools have voiced concerns over academic integrity of the program and whether the schools should grant academic credit for military courses. Some have also questioned treatment of military instructors as members of the faculty. Federal law requires schools which offer ROTC on campus to treat the instructors to the equivalent of a professor.
Lapin said a committee of Stanford faculty is reviewing a possible return of ROTC and will offer its recommendations this spring. But she said the full faculty senate would need to vote to approve reinstatement of the program.
Other skeptics have questioned whether there would be enough student interest to merit the time and resources of bringing ROTC back.
Chen said the military and university administrators need to give students a chance.
"You first have to plant the seed in order to grow the tree," he said. "Building the cadet population at Columbia first requires ROTC on campus. Then, as Columbia ROTC is nurtured into a fully integrated member of the university, the cadet population will grow over time."