LA CROSSE, Wis. — Army restructuring will force the ROTC program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to close, the university announced Thursday.
UW-L’s ROTC Eagle Battalion serves more than 50 students at UW-L and Viterbo University, and Winona State University and Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona, Minn.
Sequestration-related budget cuts are not to blame, local officials said.
However, a letter from a top Army official to the university faults “a reduction of resources” for the decision to shut down 13 ROTC programs nationally.
UW-L’s ROTC is slated to close at the end of the 2014-15 school year after more than 40 years on site.
Viterbo and UW-L officials both expressed dismay at the decision.
“It really brought a lot of pride and honor to our campus,” UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow said. “And I think we won’t be the same without it.”
The Army, not UW, funds the local ROTC program, along with payroll for eight local staffers.
Juniors and seniors in UW-L’s ROTC will be able to finish out the program, but freshmen and sophomores either will have to discontinue or transfer to another college.
Faculty and enlisted members will work with students on their options, Battalion Commander Lt. Col. James Hill said. ROTC will remain at UW-Eau Claire and
UW-Stevens Point, but students must be accepted to a new university to join those programs.
Hill said the experience is “heart-wrenching” but necessary.
“It’s what the Army wants to do,” Hill said. “We have our orders and we carry them out.”
The Eagle Battalion, as with other ROTCs, trains students to become military officers while paying for their college education.
There had been rumors the local ROTC was in danger, but the Army’s decision “really came out of the blue,” Gow said.
Before pulling the plug, the U.S. Army Cadet Command evaluated ROTC programs for efficiency, production and the “Army’s academic discipline needs,” according to a letter from Thomas Lamont, assistant secretary of the Army.
Leaders at both Viterbo and UW-L said the Eagle Battalion deserves another look, considering the number of area campuses it serves and the cost-saving and leadership opportunities it offers students.
The local battalion produces a steady flow of students entering the Army Nurse Corps, enough to earn Viterbo’s nursing program “a very positive reputation” in the corps, Viterbo President Rick Artman wrote in a letter to college staff.
“We are devastated and shocked by this decision,” Artman said.
Gow hopes area lawmakers will step in and ask the Army to reconsider.
“We’d appreciate if we do have an opportunity to make a case for keeping it,” Gow said. “It’s been such an important part of the campus community that it’s hard to think of us without it.”