The count is in – the number of undergraduate veterans in 31 of the nation’s self-proclaimed most highly selective colleges? 232*. At Bunker Hill Community College, where I teach and work? 450. The * is because some colleges don’t know the exact number.
This column always sends me breathing into a brown paper bag to calm down. I beg the ghost of I.F. Stone to forgive me for lapses of thinking any numbers represented progress while reporting this absurd and disgraceful story.
Also on Veterans' Day: H. William Rice's touching essay on what he learned teaching "Dulce and Decorum Est" to a group of young soldiers many years ago. Read here.
The only news that might awaken these private colleges and universities is that this week's "Doonesbury" certified this absence of veterans as a national issue. In Sunday’s strip (click here), the Vietnam veteran, Iraq amputee and college football coach BD confronts the admissions director, who has been ignoring BD’s emails.
About? “The one about your near-total failure to recruit and admit veterans,” BD says. “Athletes? Sure. Legacies? In spades! But veterans? Some of the country’s most talented, motivated kids? Not so much!” The admissions director has no interest. BD, I know. I know.
(Perennial US News liberal arts leader)
Bunker Hill Community College
As you can see from the fuller chart below, the range is from 48* at Cornell to zero at Williams, Carleton, Barnard/Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. (Columbia and Penn have veterans in the adult ed/schools of general studies. More later on that.) To the good, Johns Hopkins has 31; University of Rochester, 23; Northwestern and Duke, 22. At Smith, a women’s college, 12.
As a good-faith gesture, I’ll note the few commendable acts. First is Jon Burdick, University of Rochester Dean of Admissions, who said, “Each veteran adds much more to a classroom, lab or hallway discussion than another student straight from high school could, no matter how bright. I haven’t understood the colleges that aren’t doing everything in their power to reach and enroll more veterans, especially considering the Yellow Ribbon opportunity.” (The Yellow Ribbon program is the element of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that provides additional funds for veterans to attend private colleges.)
At the first-ever veterans’ orientation at Harvard (two undergraduate, more than 200 graduate students), President Drew Faust announced that Harvard must accord military service the same honor as all public service. Faust and faculty panelists later told the veterans that their views and perspectives are essential in Harvard’s classrooms if the university’s graduates are to have the education to be leaders in the 21st century. (President Faust: I couldn’t get a copy of your remarks. Please write them up and run them here in Inside Higher Ed.)
At Yale, President Rick Levin upheld tradition and again refused to discuss the issue. When the Yale news office reported three undergraduate veterans, I asked, “Why so few?” The reply: “Unfortunately, I do not have an analysis.” I said I could wait while the office asked around. No reply.
A Princeton spokesman told me that this year Princeton didn’t have the ability to reply to my question. I e-mailed Princeton President Shirley Tilghman. She answered quickly, “I understand we have two undergraduates and two graduate students who are veterans at the moment. We do not discourage veterans from applying to Princeton, and we accept them using the same broad criteria as we use for the rest of our applicants. Their service would certainly count in their favor.”
“I think that since most Americans are not sacrificing anything for these wars, we have a shared obligation to extend a hand to those who are sacrificing,” said Jim Wright, Dartmouth president emeritus. Wright, a Marine enlisted man before college, led visits to wounded soldiers and established Purple Heart scholarships at Dartmouth for wounded veterans. “We need to encourage veterans to pursue educational opportunities and provide the means for them to do this. And elite institutions have a special obligation to do this: we are privileged and with this privilege comes a responsibility.”
This year I expanded my survey to cover the colleges in the highly selective Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE). More colleges brings more news that I’ll cover here this week. In a column next week, I’ll reveal my proposal to improve the dreary results. (Hint: I will propose that Princeton and Williams host a COFHE-led summer semester to prepare veterans for success at selective, residential colleges.)
I write to coax and find solutions to problems. Williams? I invited the head of the trustees, the Silicon Valley titan Greg Avis, to visit Bunker Hill Community College to meet with veterans. We’d listen, ask questions, and create pathways for veterans to colleges like Williams. I said I’d spring for his airfare. No reply. I renewed the invitation. A non-reply reply that neither accepted nor declined my invitation. So much for innovation from Silicon Valley.
Duke, too, believes veterans enhance the education of the entire campus. “With 30,000+ applicants for 1,700 spaces in the entering class, we have the ability to take chances on what might be nontraditional candidates, like veterans, and we also provide mechanisms and support and advising to make sure they can succeed in a very competitive environment,” said Michael Schoenfield, Duke vice president for public affairs and governmental relations. (Twenty-two undergraduate veterans.)
A few puzzles, still, in the story. I don’t know what to make of veterans in the colleges of general studies. Columbia enrolls 210 students there, and carries out active recruiting to bring veterans to the program. Columbia is the first to enroll veterans from the excellent new U.S. Marine Corps Leadership Scholar Program. Why not Columbia College? Students who have taken more than a year off between high school and college are not eligible for admission there. Huh? With 21st-century demographics?
Northwestern enrolls 81 and Penn 12 in their schools of general studies. Such schools, I know, offer excellent opportunities to adults returning to school who may only be able to attend college part-time. But…. An objective of the federal post-9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program is to let veterans attend college full-time. However excellent, whatever the diploma says, these programs are not the gold ring.
At Bunker Hill Community College this Veterans Day? I taught a literature class for a friend who had to take a relative to the doctor. I brought “Ambush,” a story about Vietnam by Tim O’Brien, and “Dulce et Decorum Est,” about World War I, by Wilfed Owen. Well, that section had only three of us born in the U.S. The others were from Somalia, Colombia, Vietnam and Korea.
At BHCC, we treat students who have been in wars as veterans, too. These men and women didn’t need to read about war from me. Near the end of the class, a woman from Somalia said that her father had been killed while she watched. Her mother and her sisters were killed in that war. She didn’t understand what difference the U.S. presence made. As the class ended, the Somali woman was crying. One of the Korean women was holding her. I brought the Somali woman up to my office. A colleague and I talked with her as she cried. We gave her lunch. We will help her with housing and money for food.
For myself, I’ll end this column again with Owen’s poem. Why can’t we teachers find a curriculum that will end these wars?
DULCE ET DECORUM EST
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
8 October 1917 - March, 1918
Veterans at Consortium on Financing Higher Education Colleges, 2011
Bryn Mawr College
Johns Hopkins University
Mass. Inst. of Technology
Mount Holyoke College
Trinity College (Conn.)
University of Chicago
University of Pennsylvania
University of Rochester
Washington University in St. Louis
* May include dependents on GI Bill. University of Chicago reports 250 veterans on campus, including graduate students and employees.
(Note: This table has been updated from an earlier version to correct the figures for Cornell and Columbia.)
Wick Sloane writes the Devil's Workshop column for Inside Higher Ed.