Admiral Mike Mullen speaks at World Leaders Forum

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Lee C. Bollinger and Admiral Mike Mullen / Photo: Defense Department / Chad J. McNeeleyMilitary veterans should get access to the best colleges, career opportunities, and support services.

That was the message of Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he spoke at Columbia’s World Leaders Forum on April 18. Mullen’s visit to Columbia marked the fi rst in a series of public appearances he’s making around the country this year to raise awareness of the challenges that many soldiers face after leaving the armed services.

“We have tens of thousands who have gone off and done what our country wanted them to do, faced the perils of war, and seen things they never thought they would see,” said Mullen, during a conversation moderated by President Lee C. Bollinger. “Their lives have changed forever, but their dreams haven’t changed: Our young men and women still want an education, and they’d like to have families. They’d like jobs; they’d like a piece of the rock.”

Mullen praised Columbia’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program, through which the U.S. government and some private universities are splitting the cost of veterans’ college education. Columbia currently has more than 230 student veterans receiving tuition benefits, and its College of General Studies sends admissions counselors to military bases to recruit future students.

The relationship between universities and the armed forces could be deepened, Mullen said, if Congress repeals the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prohibits gay and lesbian soldiers from admitting their sexual orientation. That law is a primary reason many elite universities, including Columbia, ban Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs from their campuses; the universities have said the law runs afoul of their nondiscrimination policies.

“Fundamentally, I believe that we are asking young men and women to come in and essentially lie,” said Mullen. “It’s counter to what I’ve valued my whole life in the military, and that’s why I personally believe that it’s time to change.”

To watch a video of Mullen’s appearance, visit news.columbia.edu/oncampus/2000.

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