Bruce Fleming has been an English professor at the United States Naval Academy for twenty-two years and has served as a member of USNAâs Admissions Board. He has expressed concerns over the Academyâs admissions process which he strongly believes places too much emphasis on racial diversity at the cost of quality students. He explains these concerns as follows:
Hereâs a question: would you rather be defended by the officer with high all-around predictors (including leadership and athletics in addition to grades and test scores), or low ones? I bet you think Iâm joking when I say that at the Unites States Naval Academy, we let in the ones with the low scores and reject the ones with the high. As a taxpayer, I object to that.
We do this to ensure that we get students who self-identify as racial minorities. âDiversity is our number one priorityâ at the Naval Academy, as the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead and the superintendent of the Naval Academy Vice Admiral Jeffrey Fowler have both said. Of course, this is a technical use of âdiversity,â having nothing to do with age, with skills, with temperaments, with gender or sexual orientation, but only with skin color. In June of 2009 came the stunning boast that the class of 2013 is the âmost diverse everâ at 35% minority. At the same time Iâm getting e-mails from the parents of stellar white students who have been rejected to make this possible. We tend to forget the ones who arenât there: I donât.
Itâs a two-track system: whites have to excel to get in, non-whites donât have to. They just have to be non-white. And their seat, once taken, is thus denied the stellar one. In the long run this has to dilute the quality of the Navy. Thatâs scary. Itâs also immoral. At the Naval Academy in Annapolis and arguably in the military, weâre back to the childhood I remember on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, with separate water fountains for the âcolored people.â Only the water fountains for non-whites now are much better than those for the whites. Is this the way our âpost-racialâ Obama society was meant to play out?
We let in students by two tracks: one is based on a basket of skills and is intended to get the strongest all-around candidates. Because this system would pull in very few minorities, weâve instituted a second track whose intention is specifically to ensure the presence of minority midshipmen. Minority applications are briefed separately to the Admissions Board, let in âdirectâ to USNA over a lowered bar or sent to our hand-holding revolving door remedial school if really weak. We send them for tutoring, let them take courses over, and assign them to majors we think they can pass. Many graduate, though at about a 10% lower rate than the Brigade as a whole (which includes them, so the real split is greater). Weâre in an âanything it takesâ mode to get them, and in an âanything it takesâ mode to keep them: success is defined as getting them and keeping them, at any price.
This elimination of the necessity to achieve high predictors echoes the case with the New Haven firefighters on which Judge Sonia Sotomayor issued her now-famous ruling that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week. If not enough minority applicants get over the bar, you lower itâor eliminate it altogether. Thatâs what weâve done. USNA administration officials have said in public that âSAT scores are not good predictors for minority students.â But we do use low SAT scores (below 600) as a way to eliminate white candidates. Not the minority ones.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your military. In the wake of the AIG meltdown it seemed that American taxpayers suddenly became aware that what was okay on private money wasnât okay on the taxpayer dime. Many people felt that the ones paying for it should get a say in how it was run. The military has always been run, 100%, on the taxpayer dime (or rather, the taxpayerâs hundreds of millions of dollars). In addition, unlike AIG, it exists for the sole purpose of defending those taxpayers. Yet all too often the military acts as if it thinks itâs working on its own money, and exists for itself. This business of affirmative action at the Naval Academy and in the fleet is such an issue.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the whole deal is that the military is lying to the taxpayers about what itâs doingâmisdirecting by throwing up a dust screen of irrelevancies designed to get people off their track or out and out misstating facts.
The USNA Dean of Admissions was quoted in the Baltimore Sun last year as saying âwe donât lower standards for minorities.â I suppose if you twist that enough itâs just misleading, rather than a lie: we donât âlowerâ (as a verb) because the standards for minorities are already âlowerâ (adjective). Weâll guarantee admission to a black candidate with B and C grades, no particular leadership or academics, and SAT scores of 540 on each part. A white candidate like that is voted ânot qualified.â The black one is voted âqualifiedâ. A âqualifiedâ (to a lower standard) minority candidate has a seat reserved; a âqualifiedâ white candidate competes with other âqualifiedâ ones for the remaining seats. If theyâre not even this qualified, we send them to Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS), which is overwhelmingly minority. Here they are âremediatedâ for a year, and the system rigged to ensure they come to Annapolis, taking a seat the next year. There is almost no bottom to what weâll take for minority applicants through NAPS.
All minorities are let in over a lower bar, and most would never be admitted competitively; some are far lower than the bar for white candidates. However this doesnât mean that all minority midshipmen are weak; Iâve had some stellar ones in my career. However they all got in âdirectâ (which white applicants donât): lowering the bar doesnât mean all needed it that low.
None of this is written down, itâs just the game rules I learned on the Admissions Board. We were told not to write anything down because âeverything is âFOIâableââ it can be demanded under the Freedom of Information Act.
After being on the Admissions Board, I understood a lot of what Iâd seen in the classroom. I realized that there was a close to 100% correlation between the students who just couldnât get basic concepts and couldnât express themselves and those who either had been recruited to play sports like football and basketball, or who had checked a box saying they were Hispanic or African-American.
The Naval Academy has engaged in blatant race-tracking for years, but never with any justification. Then in March of 2008 the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) issued a âdiversity policyâ that has been cited repeatedly when âaffirmative actionâ is questioned. The document signed by the CNO is unexceptionable, and raises no eyebrows. Of course not. This is the written form of the intent, which here is being kept purposely bland: this could be easily challenged in court. The question then becomes, how is it understood and put into practice? Similarly, The CNOâs âdiversity policyâ begins as follows: âDiversity has made our Nation and Navy stronger. To derive the most from that diversity, every individual, military or civilian, must be encouraged and enabled to reach his or her full potential.â Who can disagree with that? But isnât that just the opposite of race-tracking and separate water fountains?
Even if itâs illegal, it might be we could understand why itâs a good idea, somehow, in some form. Only the military isnât good at providing justification. Weâre told the navy has to âlook likeâ the general population (i.e. non-white). But actually the enlisted corps already does. What they mean is, the officer corps has to be just as non-white as the enlisted corps. Why is that? Who says a black male soldier relates better to a black or Hispanic female officer than to a white male one? Does this mean that white soldiers need white officers? None of this is explained or justified, and the taxpayers are paying the militaryâs salaries to defend them.
This is the demand for justification that Iâm issuing here. In the military, none of it happens. We decide what weâre going to do, keep it secret if possible and in any case âinside the walls,â as the military says. We assert loudly that what we do is serving the policy, and thatâs the end of the story. Only it isnât. The military is here to protect the Constitution. They need to be reminded that they canât violate it.
For more about Bruce Fleming, his book about the Naval Academy âAnnapolis Autumnâ and the forthcoming âBridging the Military-Civilian Divide: What Each Side Needs to Know About the Other, and About Itself,â visit his web site at www.brucefleming.net. A longer consideration of the Naval Academy experience from the perspective of students is currently on www.sftt.org.
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