Cadets and midshipmen typically join the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) because they are inspired to join the ranks of uniformed service members. Most are motivated by a desire to serve, to challenge themselves, and to partake in the rigors of military life. No one begins an ROTC program expecting to eventually face disenrollment.
However, and for a multitude of reasons, many do find themselves at risk of disenrollment, which can have a catastrophic impact on their lives. It can mean losing their future career and owing the government thousands of dollars. For any cadet or midshipman facing investigation or disenrollment, the stakes are extremely high. The good news is that, with the help of an experienced disenrollment prevention lawyer, ROTC students can often successfully fight a disenrollment action.
What is ROTC?
Every branch of the military except for the Coast Guard offers ROTC, a college-level program for students who are interested in commissioning as an officer in the U.S. military. ROTC provides students with the opportunity to simultaneously prepare for a military career while they earn a bachelor's degree in an academic field of study. Students are able to attend a college of their choice (provided that the college offers an ROTC program or is affiliated with one that does) and receive the significant financial aid necessary to finance a college education in a time when the cost of education has never been higher. In exchange, the students agree to accept a military commission and to serve in the military for a set period of time after graduation.
History of ROTC
ROTC was founded at Norwich University in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge, a former superintendent of West Point. Partridge saw the need for an educated officer corps that was prepared for military life while also capable of seamlessly transitioning into civilian life when their service was not needed. He believed that the military would benefit from having well-rounded officers who were wise in a broad range of academic fields of study. Partridge's goal was to create a program that would train students in both traditional subject areas and military science, preparing them for both serving in the military when necessary and moving into civilian life during times of peace.
The program Partridge set out to build would be different from a service academy, like United States Military Academy at West Point or the Naval Academy at Annapolis, in that students would participate in military training in addition to attending to completing regular university requirements. By contrast, the service academies prioritize military training over outside academic pursuits, producing officers who are highly skilled in military sciences but not as educated in non-military pursuits.
Partridge created such a program at Norwich and, over the next century, it grew in popularity and was expanded to other educational institutions. When President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Defense Act of 1916, military training programs at non-service academy universities were brought under the control of the federal government, renamed as the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, and modern-day ROTC programs were born.
What ROTC Means Today
In present-day ROTC programs, students are referred to as “cadets” or “midshipmen,” just as they are at the service academies and, following graduation, ROTC participants are expected to immediately begin serving in the military as officers, just like service academy graduates are also required to do.
The Army is the largest branch of the military, and likewise, the Army has the largest ROTC program. Students in Army and Air Force ROTC programs are known as “cadets,” and students in Navy and Marine Corps ROTC programs are known as “midshipmen.” In exchange for receiving an ROTC scholarship, students in both Army and Navy ROTC programs are obligated to serve in the military for a certain number of years after graduation, usually eight.
ROTC scholarships are relatively easy for students to receive, though recipients must commit to military service following graduation in order to receive a scholarship. However, students are also able to participate in ROTC programs without receiving a scholarship or committing to military service after graduation. Students who do not receive an ROTC scholarship are still known as cadets and midshipmen but do not have to make a decision about commissioning until their junior year. This allows uncertain students to sample the military lifestyle through ROTC for two years before having to commit to military service.
After graduating, the newest service members receive the ranks of Second Lieutenant (Army) and Ensign (Navy) and receive all the benefits associated with being in the military, including health insurance, a steady paycheck, paid vacation, and job security.
Institutions that Offer ROTC
ROTC programs are offered at three different types of colleges and universities:
- Senior military colleges (all branches of the military)
- Junior military colleges (Army and Air Force only)
- Traditional four-year degree-granting institutions (Army, Air Force, Navy, and USMC)
The type of institution where a student enrolls in ROTC will determine that student's experience, and the experiences can differ quite a bit between institution types. For example, senior military colleges (such as The Citadel, Norwich University, University of North Georgia, Texas A&M, Virginia Military Institute, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University) immerse students in a very militaristic lifestyle. Cadets attending these schools typically will wear uniforms every day and will live in barracks.
Students at junior military colleges (such as Georgia Military Institute, Marion Military Institute, New Mexico Military Institute, and Valley Forge Military Academy) also have a very militaristic educational experience. Junior military colleges are not, however, the same as military preparatory schools, though there is some crossover between the two. Junior military colleges offer two-year associates degree programs in a fully immersive military setting, similar to be a service academy or a senior military college. Students at junior military colleges typically participate in Army Early Commissioning Programs, which allow cadets to commission as officers in the Army Reserves in two years. Military preparatory schools, by contrast, exist to help students gain admission to military academies by helping improve their grades and admission packets.
In contrast, to both senior and junior military colleges, cadets and midshipmen participating in ROTC programs at traditional colleges and universities live the same college lifestyle as their non-ROTC peers. They live in dorms, are not often required to wear uniforms, are allowed to participate in university extracurricular activities, and eat with other students in dining halls and in on-campus restaurants.
When a student accepts an ROTC scholarship, he or she is administered the oath of office for appointment into the military. That's why these students receive the military rank of cadet or midshipman despite still being in college. They are, essentially, members of the military at this point. They also sign a complex contract that explains what benefits they will receive and the requirements they must meet in return. Cadets and midshipmen on scholarship must maintain certain academic standards and adhere to military physical fitness, height, and weight requirements. They must also attend and complete certain military training and adhere to military standards of moral, ethical, and lawful conduct. The contract also sets out the term of military service the cadet or midshipmen is obligated to fulfill. It is, in every sense of the word, a contract the student enters into with the U.S. government.
Breach of Contract
When an ROTC cadet or midshipman is said to have failed to meet the requirements of the contract, he or she may be referred for disenrollment from the ROTC program. The military views the cadet or midshipman's failure to meet the requirements as a breach of the contract the student entered into with the military. As the student is seen to have breached their side of the contract, the government seeks to also exit its own side of the agreement and to recover the cost of the breach.
For the student, this could mean the military may withdraw any future financial compensation in the form of scholarship money and may seek to recover the scholarship money the cadet has already received, as well as any other financial benefits. If the cadet is unable to repay the money, or if there are other circumstances at play, the government may attempt to recoup its investment by forcing the student to serve on active duty as an enlisted service member, and the military can even require that the student do this with no additional compensation due to the individual.
When a cadet or midshipman is disenrolled, he or she will lose the ROTC scholarship benefits and could even be barred from becoming a commissioned military officer in the future.
Cadets and midshipmen can be found to have breached the ROTC contract for a number of reasons, including failing to maintain the minimum required semester or cumulative grade point averages (G.P.A.); for not meeting weight and physical fitness requirements; for not having the aptitude for military service; for undesirable character or unethical conduct; for criminal or other forms of misconduct; for having a personal hardship or becoming an approved conscientious objector; or if a condition is discovered that will later bar that individual from becoming a commissioned officer.
Title IX Issues
A cadet or midshipman could find their ROTC status in jeopardy because of a Title IX accusation, as well. Title IX defense is an area where attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience in Title IX cases, having represented hundreds of students across the United States, and he can discuss the implications of a Title IX accusation on your ROTC participation status if you have further Title IX questions.
When people refer to “Title IX,” they are referring to Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972. The relevant clause of Title IX reads: “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
People often think of Title IX in the context of ensuring equal access and funding for males and females in athletics. But in recent years, Title IX has been used in court decisions on a range of issues, including sexual harassment and discrimination, sexual assault and sexual misconduct, issues involving transgender students, and in prohibiting retaliation against students or faculty and staff of educational institutions. This can be a very confusing area of law, and if you have specific Title IX questions, it is very important that you get them answered by an attorney who has experience handling Title IX cases.
However, Title IX does not apply to a school or university that primarily exists to train people for military service, though it does apply to schools and universities that participate in ROTC. For this reason, Title IX can be a tricky issue for ROTC participants, and it is especially important that you speak with an experienced attorney who understands how Title IX relates to ROTC participants. Additionally, while Title IX does not apply to service academies, it does apply to junior and senior military colleges, including:
- The Citadel
- Virginia Military Institute
- Norwich University
- Texas A&M
- University of North Georgia
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute
- Valley Forge Military Academy
- Marion Military Institute
- New Mexico Military Institute
When any student, ROTC or not, is accused of violating Title IX, the educational institution will launch an investigation. For ROTC students, the outcome of a Title IX investigation can lead to being disenrolled from ROTC, losing an ROTC scholarship, being forced to repay scholarship and other money already received, and potentially even ending that individual's plans to join and serve in the military. An ROTC student may even be required to serve in the military without pay. It is extremely important for any student accused of Title IX violations to seek experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel, and it's especially important for ROTC students, as what happens during the investigation and hearing can impact the trajectory of the student's life.
What Does Disenrollment Mean?
When a cadet or midshipman is found to have breached their ROTC contract, he or she can be disenrolled from the ROTC program. This means they will no longer be allowed to participate in the program or to enjoy any of the benefits of the program.
Being disenrolled from ROTC is a serious and even life-changing matter. If a cadet or midshipman is actually disenrolled, they may be required to repay the scholarship money they received, as well as repaying the financial amount of other benefits they received. Disenrolled cadets and midshipmen may also be ordered to enlist in the military and may be ordered to enlist and serve without pay.
Reasons for Disenrollment
There are 16 stated reasons for why a cadet or midshipman may be disenrolled from ROTC, though not all of them are considered bad or equally bad. The reason for disenrollment will likely determine whether there will be a negative impact on the individual and the severity of that impact. A cadet or midshipman may be disenrolled for the “following reasons:
- To receive an appointment or enter into an officer training program other than ROTC
- To receive training under an Army Medical Department program
- At the cadet's own request
- Withdrawal or dismissal from the attending academic institution
- Medical disqualification
- Failure to maintain required GPA
- Personal hardship
- Height/weight or physical fitness test failures
- For being an approved conscientious objector
- Dismissal from advanced camp training
- Positive drug urinalysis or alcohol abuse
- Inaptitude for military service
- Undesirable character
- Indifferent attitude
- Breach of contract”
Common Reasons for ROTC Disenrollment
Though there are many reasons why an ROTC cadet or midshipman may be disenrolled, these are that occur most frequently and some strategies for defending against them:
Failing a urinalysis test is certainly a serious matter, but it doesn't necessarily mean the end of your military career or your education. You should have an expert review the findings of the investigation. Sometimes urinalysis tests do not rely on the most reputable testing procedures. If that's the case with yours, an expert witness testifying at your hearing could help set aside the urinalysis results.
But even if the test was valid and there were no lab errors, it's still possible that your urinalysis results were due to you accidentally or innocently ingesting a banned substance or because of a drug interaction or a medicine for which you have a lawful prescription.
Finally, you may be able to successfully argue that, even though you made a mistake, your character, personal history, circumstances, and other factors show that you deserve another chance.
Misconduct is a word used to describe a wide range of activities, including academic dishonesty or academic integrity issues, code of conduct or honor-code violations, or allegations of criminal conduct. It's very important that you carefully consider the allegation against you and the evidence that is being used to support that allegation. The government still has the burden to prove the allegations. If you have your own evidence to rebut the government's evidence, you may be successful in defeating the disenrollment action. You also have a right to challenge the evidence or witness testimonies that the government presents.
Even if the conduct did occur, the investigating officers and boards often look to see if these issues are a pattern of poor behavior or if it is an isolated incident. If you can show that the conduct was the result of a momentary mistake and is unlikely to happen again, you may be able to ask for a lesser form of discipline.
Not meeting academic requirements is one of the most common reasons for disenrollment, but it does not have to mean the end of your military career. Particularly during global events such as the pandemic and the pandemic's impact on education, you may be able to successfully argue that extenuating circumstances impacted your ability to learn, study, and maintain a sufficient GPA. You may be able to ask for an opportunity to improve your grades by going on academic probation, changing your major, or working with your instructors to get extra help.
If you are faced with potential disenrollment for failing to meet certain physical requirements, you may be able to argue that there were problems with the administration of the testing or that the physical program did not comply with the required rules. Additionally, you may be able to show that legitimate medical reasons caused or contributed to your physical test failure, such as the impact of the pandemic on physical fitness facilities and training opportunities.
Medical conditions can be both a basis for disenrollment and a defense to certain types of disenrollment. Usually, if you are disenrolled from ROTC for medical reasons, you will not be ordered to repay the government for your educational benefits. However, if the government learns that you knew about the medical condition in question prior to enrolling in ROTC and did not disclose the information, the disenrollment may be treated as an integrity violation. It's very important that you are prepared with medical documentation, expert medical options, and strong advocacy.
Consequences of Disenrollment
You joined ROTC because you were seriously interested in pursuing a military career, and you saw ROTC as an excellent way to fulfill your military and academic goals. Being disenrolled from ROTC can seriously hinder those goals.
In addition to destroying a cadet or midshipman's prospects for serving as a commissioned officer, involuntary disenrollment can cause extremely harsh financial consequences. Disenrolled cadets and midshipmen may be required to reimburse the government for any tuition and scholarships they received. Repayment amounts for disenrolled cadets and midshipmen usually range from $35,000 to more than $100,000. ROTC cadets and midshipmen who received scholarships may also be required to perform two years of active military duty as enlisted servicemembers.
However, ROTC students who are referred for disenrollment are still entitled to due process and are afforded the opportunity to attend a disenrollment hearing board.
The disenrollment process varies slightly between the branches and departments involved, but the basic process is generally the same.
Most of the time, the process will start with an allegation which is then followed by an investigation. The investigation is the cadet or midshipman's first and best opportunity to influence the potential disenrollment. During this phase, the government is looking for evidence for why you should be disenrolled or why you deserve a second chance. It is imperative at this point that you provide the government with reasons and examples that support your assertion that you should not be disenrolled.
Next, depending on the branch of service, you will either have the opportunity to present matters to an investigating officer (IO) or to a board of officers. These individuals will share findings and recommendations as to whether you should be disenrolled, allowed to continue, or if you are disenrolled, whether you should be ordered to repay the financial benefits you have received or be subject to enlistment to repay the debt. During this phase, it's critical that you dispute the evidence presented against you and present your own contrary evidence.
Exercising Your Legal Options
The disenrollment process is very convoluted, and it can differ from institution to institution. Often, the officials charged with making disenrollment decisions do not even fully understand their own procedures. It is not uncommon that the officials will act outside their own policies. Without experienced, knowledgeable counsel, you will be at the mercy of a haphazard, inconsistently applied system. With counsel, however, you will be able to challenge the inconsistencies as well as the allegations against you. With the help of someone who understands the system, perhaps even better than the officials, you will know which strategy is likely to work best for you.
For example, if you waive the right to appear before a board, you may be able to submit a written request. Alternatively, if you choose to exercise your right to appear before a board, you will be able to present evidence at the board hearings and will be able to call your own witnesses.
After the hearing, the investigating officer will make findings and recommendations, and you will then be allowed to submit a written response to the finding and recommendations. The investigating officer's findings and recommendations, as well as your written responses, will be sent to Cadet Command to consider.
Though you will be allowed to have legal representation at every phase of the process, your counsel will not be allowed to advocate or speak on your behalf at the hearing unless the hearing officer permits it. Nevertheless, it is still crucial for counsel to assist you in understanding, interpreting, and applying the complex rules and regulations that govern disenrollment proceedings at every step of the way.
Your lawyer will also advise you on how to present evidence and testimony and how to challenge the evidence and testimony that is presented against you. You and your lawyer will be allowed to confer privately, away from the hearing officer and witnesses, so that you can work together on a defense strategy and other matters.
Your lawyer will help you develop presentations and submissions to the hearing officer. A lawyer who is familiar with these matters will be able to meaningfully assist you with identifying which key witnesses and documents you should present, how you should respond to the questions that are raised, and will help you identify weaknesses in the government's case against you.
Cadets and midshipmen have the right to appeal their dismissal to a panel of officers and have the right to appear personally before the board. You may also present your case during this hearing, and you can be accompanied by an attorney.
This is not the time to go it alone. You have too much at stake, and you need someone who has successfully helped others in your situation to help you and guide you through this process.
The Appeals Process
The appeals process and the strategy for a successful appeal will differ based on why disenrollment is being pursued against you. For example, if you are being disenrolled for a weight or physical fitness test failure, you may be able to use the military regulation that specifies the requirements. Some Professors of Military Science who are familiar with the regulations and requirements will only dismiss ROTC students who clearly failed to comply with regulations. Others may be more aggressive and attempt to disenroll students when the regulations do not require disenrollment. Pointing out where the board's actions do not match is a successful appeal strategy in many cases.
An appeal will proceed much like a court hearing, except that the student will have to advocate for themself, but can receive assistance from an attorney to prepare and practice. The caden or midshipman should prepare an opening statement arguing why the government's decision to disenroll is wrong. A cadet may then call favorable witnesses to testify and, after the witnesses testify, the cadet will give a closing argument that states why the government's decision to disenroll is erroneous.
After the hearing, the Officer or panel of Officers presiding will write a memorandum of record to the Cadet Command with their recommendation. Ultimately, the Commanding General of ROTC Cadet Command or that person's designee will make a final decision on whether the cadet is disenrolled. After the Commanding General renders a decision, the cadet has no further rights to an appeal.
We Know You're Worried. We Can Help.
This is a scary time, with your or perhaps your child's entire future hanging in the balance. It's vital that your next step be the right one. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully represented hundreds of cadets and midshipmen across the United States in countless situations involving ROTC disenrollment actions and other disciplinary matters. His extensive knowledge and experience allow him to discover errors in investigations and in the procedures that lead up to and follow disenrollment hearings. Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm fight day in and day out on behalf of ROTC students nationwide for a fair process and the best possible outcome. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 for help.