Former Army ROTC Cadet Recounts Clashing with Faculty on Campus Recruitment

By Joseph H. Cooper W’69, L’72
My law school recollections are not submitted with the certainty of a sworn affidavit.
Flashback to Spring 1970
Had a call to conscience been posted on the bulletin board by The Goat? Over the signatures of concerned students? Over the signature of Bernard Wolfman?

As to increased U. S. bombing of Cambodia, there may well have been discussions round and about The Goat.

Final exams were, I believe, just a few weeks away in our respective dreads.

My recollection, such as it is: Some students and Bernard Wolfman held the view that finals should be postponed to protest the Nixon administration’s illegal and unconscionable actions. Postponement was to be an act of conscience.

I am told by a classmate that I spoke in opposition to the postponement, on the grounds that it would impose disruptions on the family commitments and travel plans of others; would disrupt the interview and job opportunities of others.

While I believe I shared my incredulity as to how the bombing would win hearts and minds in the U.S., let alone in Southeast Asia, I wanted to get that year’s 1L buffet over and done with, rather than have some of that year’s tastes linger and repeat on me. Further, and prolonged, digesting of cases would, for me, be mental and, perhaps even, physiological indigestion.

The Dialogue
Was my opposition aired round and about The Goat?

Did I rise in a lecture hall to speak in cautious refutation to soon-to-be Dean Wolfman? Hard for me to now imagine such bravado, such daring.

I would always hope that a law school of Penn’s stature would be “a sanctuary city,” of a sort, where a member of that community would be able to hold and express an opinion that is different from a more vocal chorus.

Back then there was, I believe, a healthy and tolerated diversity of sentiments. My views were heard and were not cancelled. There may have been some hard feelings but, to my memory, no silencing, no actual ostracism. None of today’s culture of pronounced reflux.

The Prequel
As an undergrad at Penn, I wore the ill-fitting drab-green uniform of an Army ROTC cadet, on campus. In silence, I walked past those protesting the War in Vietnam — but I did hear derision and condemnation. Attired in ROTC garb, I did hear “Warmonger” and “Baby Killer”… 

Penn Provost Jack Russell stoked the animus. That may have been the beginning of institutional partisanship.

American flags came down and were burned. A large Peace Symbol sculpture was erected prominently at the entrance to Van Pelt Library. Among my ROTC friends, the mindset was that, if called upon, we would — somehow — muster the courage and resolve to try to put an end to the atrocities in Vietnam that were coming to light.

My recollection is that Penn’s Army ROTC curriculum had us schooled in the art of communication. Not the finger signs of Special Ops on a commando mission, but in public speaking and interpersonal communication. We studied topography and eco-systems that could affect a soldier’s survival. We didn’t watch war movies; we read military history.

My personal encounters with intolerance came as I spoke and wrote in opposition to banishing Army ROTC from campus. After those of us who had made ROTC commitments were graduated, Army ROTC was extinguished at Penn.

At law school, I had expected there would be views different from mine. But I was surprised by some of the vehemence – stoked by faculty, who were more than amicus curiae. Was I naïve to expect faculty members to champion freedom of expression and diversity of views?

That intolerance now seems to have a very pronounced stronghold at Penn, and at the Law School in particular.

Curiously, I don’t recall how the exam-postponement issue of Spring 1970 was finally resolved. I don’t recall there being a cancel culture.