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MIT, BU plan to merge NRTOC

By Reuven M. Lerner

Citing "future budget limitations" and "plans for a smaller Navy and Marine Corps," the Navy Reserve Officers' Training Corps program announced last month that it will be forming a "consortium" between the Navy ROTC programs at Boston University and MIT.

The plan will affect students from Harvard University, Tufts University and Wellesley College, who participate in Navy ROTC programs at MIT, as well as students from Boston College and Northeastern University, who are enrolled in the BU Navy ROTC program.

According to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Alvin W. Drake '57, who chairs the Institute Committee on ROTC, it is also quite possible that Wellesley students will soon be excluded from the Navy ROTC program altogether.

Capt. Robert W. Sherer, the senior Navy ROTC officer at MIT, said yesterday that he gave President Charles M. Vest a letter describing the changes on Jan. 16, the same day they were announced in Washington, DC, by the Defense Department.

Sherer said he "knew there was a nationwide review" 18 months ago, because "all the units had to contribute information to our headquarters." But he added that neither he, nor any of the other heads of Navy ROTC units, were informed of the Navy's decisions until after Congress had been briefed.

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Some units are closed

Sherer explained that there has been a decrease lately in the number of students enrolled in Navy ROTC, following a tremendous increase that peaked several years ago. He said that there were 7833 midshipmen enrolled in 1986, but only 5925 this year. Similarly, he said, there will be approximately 1400 Navy ROTC graduates this year, as opposed to 2100 in 1988.

This decrease has led staff sizes to be disproportionately large at some Navy ROTC units, Sherer said. He gave the example of schools which graduate a dozen midshipmen each year, while supporting office staffs of the same size. "It's a very inefficient way of operating," he added.

Five schools were inefficient enough to warrant being closed in 1996. According to the Navy announcement, programs at Texas Tech University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Missouri, the University of New Mexico and the University of Utah will be closed. The announcement said that "no new NROTC students will enter programs at these schools after fiscal year 1991."

Sherer also said that "a number" of Navy ROTC programs "in this vicinity" were going to be closed soon, but would not comment further.

Wellesley News Director Laurel Stazis said she had not heard that Wellesley students might not be able to participate in Navy ROTC, and thus was unable to confirm or deny Drake's report. Wellesley officials who work with students in ROTC programs were unavailable for comment.

Drake said that there had never been many Wellesley participants in ROTC programs, and estimated that there were between 10 and 40 in any given year. However, he left open the possibility of MIT filing an appeal on Wellesley's behalf, saying that "If Wellesley were unhappy about being dropped, I don't know if that would be an appropriate thing for us to take an interest in. It could be."

Drake added that "Everyone should have the choice. If Wellesley students want to explore ROTC, they might be people whom we would consider helping."

Consortia preserve units

while decreasing costs

Sherer described the consortium plan as a way of cutting costs without shutting down any of the ROTC units. A consortium "looks pretty much like two ROTC units, except that there is only one commanding officer, or one professor of naval science," he said. Sherer said that at least two consortia exist already, in Virginia and San Diego, and they have worked out well so far.

Neither Sherer nor Drake thought that the consortium agreement between MIT and BU would affect the students dramatically. Sherer said there would be no changes in teaching staff or classes, and Drake speculated that the location of some drills would be the only change for MIT midshipmen.

Schools targeted for consortia are required to complete the adjustment by the end of fiscal year 1991, which will be on Sept. 30, 1992, Sherer said. He noted that since he plans to retire in June, it would be reasonable to assume that his counterpart at BU, Capt. Michael Field, would become commander of the MIT-BU consortium. However, he said, such an appointment would have to be approved by the MIT faculty.

The Navy announcement said that the combination of closings and consortia would result in a savings of $18.5 million annually, including 80 military and 11 civilian positions. Sherer pointed out that the entire Navy is being made smaller, which he attributed to "the reduction of tensions in Europe and reduction in tensions with the Soviet Union."

Dean for Undergraduate Education Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65, who is in charge of the ROTC programs at MIT, was unavailable for comment.

Changes not surprising

Drake said that while he had not heard what the Navy's plans were before they were actually announced, he was neither upset nor surprised by the proposals. "All the services are looking around . . . to bring [their ROTC programs] down in scale," so they can be "managed more efficiently."

Drake added that he thinks the MIT ROTC programs are relatively safe, since MIT graduates can provide engineering and technical skills to the Navy and other armed forces.

He added, "I will assume that schools that have very small programs and [are] inefficient, or have not historically been suppliers . . . will go away," which most probably will not include MIT.

He also stressed the differences between the branches of the armed services, saying that these changes affected the Navy only.

Sherer understood the need for the changes, but was not sure how wise they were in the context of the current war in the Persian Gulf. "It's almost paradoxical that we're reducing the size of the military and [at the same time] having the largest peacetime military buildup since World War II," he said.