Blacksburg (AP) -- For the first time since the school opened in 1872, participation in corps of cadets at Virginia Polytechnic Institute will be on an optional basis this fall.
This was the decision yesterday of the school's board of visitors after a 5 1/2 hour public hearing and a two-hour executive session. With two amendments, it was a reaffirmation of the board's May 18 decision.
The board agreed yesterday to make enrollment in ROTC available only to cadet corps members and to appoint a nine-man committee to study the new policy and make recommendations for strengthening the corps.
The special hearing was called at the request of Gov. Albertis S. Harrison Jr. In the wake of a storm of controversy that resulted from the board's earlier decision. Approximately 600 persons were on hand for the hearing.
Board Rector W. Thomas Rice who had opposed a voluntary corps, called it "a very reasonable solution to the problem." Dr. T. Marshall Hahn Jr., president of Virginia Tech, said "I'm delighted -- I'm quite pleased with the board's decision."
Dr. Hahn said he expects the corps will be "smaller this fall and stronger and will grow thereafter." He said incoming freshmen so far are electing corps or civilian status on a 50-50 basis but he expects that to "change slightly in favor of the corps."
A number of alumni opposed the change even though the alumni association's board of directors after a three - hour hearing Sunday had supported voluntary participation and suggested the two amendments that were adopted.
The new cadet commander, James Powell of Petersburg, opposed a voluntary corps "because we will not be able to reach all the people coming to VPI." He added, however, that "if it is true that the administration is against the corps, I'm sure it is part of an over-all plan to help the school and not from the standpoint of hating the corps."
Robert Bruce of Arlington predicted that "if Dr. Hahn doesn't think he has a problem with the alumni, wait until you see next year's donations." He said the board had been "panicked into a decision."
A military or civilian life option will strengthen the corp and students will "fight to get in it rather than to get out of it," said Dr. Hahn, who said 87 per cent of the faculty and a majority of the mail he received after the decision in May favored the changed in policy.
Citing figures which he called "the only official figures," Dr. Hahn said the dropout rate is higher and the grade-point average lower among military students than among civilian students.