April 15, 2011
Dear Members of the Board:
The U.S. Naval Institute is one of the great intellectual organizations in this country. I joined as an undergraduate at St. Joseph’s University and later became a Life Member. Over the years I have fully participated in USNI as an author, as a speaker, and as a donor.
I have been a fan of the Naval Institute for my entire career—with the exception of six short years when I served as Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan Administration. Somehow, the Institute seemed to get off track during that period. I began to read articles in Proceedings by mere lieutenants who disagreed with me. Shocking! But after I left government in 1987, the Institute returned to its grand tradition of truth and wisdom. Despite that experience—or maybe because of it—I feel deeply that this unique “Independent Forum” must remain open to participants of all ranks and stations. Listening to your critics is smart—even when it hurts.
It was therefore dismaying to read in the April issue of Proceedings, that this “Independent Forum” that plays such a vital role in the national security dialogue is now in jeopardy with a proposal to include “advocacy” in the Mission Statement. We all share a common goal—to take the Institute to a brighter future as a stronger entity. Our challenge is how to get there and, in my view, changing the Mission Statement in the way proposed will not do that. There is a very compelling case that we are headed in the right direction now with two strong years of financial and operational performance highlighted in the 2010 Letter to Members.
It may be time for the Board to step back, reengage with our members, and build a strategic plan that we can all embrace. I concur with the views expressed by our 23rd CNO and former USNI President, Admiral Carl Trost, “USNI cannot be an Independent Forum and also be an advocate…There is no such thing as an independent advocate.”
John F. Lehman