Hello there. Some of you may know me for my weekly series Maritime Monday’ over at gCaptain. The nice folks over here at the USNI Blog offered me an opportunity to contribute, so here I am. Oddly enough, I immediately ran into a bit of writer’s block trying to find an appropriate subject, so I decided to comment on the following Baltimore Examiner story that they ran back in December as it touches on a process that many reads here have probably experienced first-hand:

Naval Academy asks Congress for increase in minority minds

By Jason Flanagan, Examiner Staff Writer 12/16/08
Congressional members will be asked next week to push more minorities candidates toward the U.S. Naval Academy in hopes of increasing the military institution’s diversity.

“We want to let Congress know that we can work with them, and tell them what we are all about,” said Craig Duchossois, chairman of the Board of Visitors, the federal oversight board of the academy.

A letter drafted by the board’s diversity subcommittee, which included Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., will be sent to every member of Congress, first focusing on the black and Hispanic caucuses, telling them about how to increase the diversity of their nominees.

Every member of Congress can nominate high schoolers from their districts. But members have complained that they were unaware of opportunities, such as the academy’s preparatory school in Rhode Island, that could afford more minorities a chance at the academy.

Diversity has long been an issue at the Naval Academy and in the Navy since the academy began accepting minorities in the 1940s. – Baltimore Examiner

I am sure that many readers have gone through the process of applying for a congressional nomination to attend one of the Federal Academies. The competition can be quite tough, especially if you live in Maryland, the home of the Naval Academy, and somewhat easier if you happen to live in other urban areas not located in a state that is the home of a Federal Academy.

For the Naval Academy to increase the diversity of their student population, they first need to have a diversified pool of Academy applicants to choose from. In this respect they are somewhat dependent on members of Congress for this. This is surely the driving force behind the news story above. The story below from earlier in 2008 does hint at a possible reason for a lack of diversity, Members of congress themselves.

In the Washington suburbs, hundreds of impressive teens compete each year to win their representative’s nomination to West Point or the Naval, Air Force or Merchant Marine academies. But in the District of Columbia, spots at the service academies often go unused.

At the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, there is not a single cadet nominated by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), according to an academy spokesman. At the Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, there is but one Norton nominee, a spokesman there says.

Contrast Norton’s record with that of, say, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who has 14 nominees studying at the Air Force Academy; Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who has six; or Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), with 13.

I asked the academies to break out the number of their students nominated by Washington area House members in the past five years. Norton substantially lags her colleagues, with a total of 20 students inducted, compared, for example, with 62 for Davis and 53 for Wolf. Norton’s suburban counterparts say interest is so high among high school students that they can easily nominate more than enough qualified candidates to be confident of filling their quota of slots at the academies. – Washington Post

This past summer, Congresswoman Norton did nominate two residents to the Naval Academy. She has a team (as do other Members of Congress) who are tasked with handling nominations. I never met my congressman when applying for a nomination from him for both the Naval and Merchant Marine Academies. Surely, she is not the only Congressman who represents an urban area that has nominations that go unused. That is a shame since admission to an Academy is a not only a great way to receive a ‘free’ college education but is also a great way to escape inner city poverty.

So, is the congressional requirement still a good thing or has it outlived its good? Or is this requirement costing academies access to otherwise qualified candidates and contributing to complaints that they are not diversified enough? As for me, I am against the Academies picking students based on race. Because when you do that, you end up disenfranchising others. But by removing obstacles to get to the selection process, you hopefully solve or reduce the problem naturally. Of course, students still need to apply first, but that is another problem.

Posted by FFry in Navy, Training & Education
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  • welcome aboard! I like how the Coast Guard Academy does things: competitive process without the congressional nominations etc

  • claudio

    Diversity and the new heavy (handed) push by the Navy towards “more” diversity is something you either agree with or don’t. I personally don’t, I’m more of a believer in meritocracy. My suggestion for unused concressional spots is that they be given to applicants from the fleet. Based on merit.

  • dave

    Affirmative Action is racist and un-American. The idea that Obama’s kids will get positive discrimination over middle class white or asian kids is just insane. I got a half-asian nephew, his Mom grew up in a hut in rural Thailand with a dirt floor. If he checks the “asian” box when he applies to college he’ll have to score 200 points higher on his SAT compared to a black or hispanic kid. That’s just not right.

    Affirmative Action, if it exists at all, should be based on income and asset level — not race or ethnicity. Help poor people, not just the ones with certain skin colors or ethnic backgrounds.

  • FOD Detector

    Unused spots are often traded between Congressmen; it’s not unusual for a MD or a NY Congressmen to obtain unused slots from other places. I had an Academy classmate who received his nomination from Guam despite having never been west of the Mississippi.

    Meannwhile, I see dave has weighed in with his own brand of lunacy.

  • Will

    FOD Detector, you are workign with old information. Congressmen and Senators are not able to nominate candidates from outside their district/state. After all the congressional and other slots are filled, the academys are able to choose from the alternates on the congressman’s slates.

    Claudio suggested that unused appointments go to the fleet. At the present time (at least for USNA), fleet applications are lower than the number of slots available. So the fleet applicants don’t NEED more slots until they fill the ones that they have (and don’t use).

  • claudio


    not aware that the fleet is not putting forth enough candidates. that is a shame, and a disservice to our sailors that leaders (khakis) don’t identify good candidates. I know when I put in for ECP back in 90, I got no help, hell, most (including CC) didn’t know anything about the program. I know that out of the thousands of bright sailors we have, we should be able to fill all the slots available.

  • Thanks for all the comments and thanks to Jim for pointing out what I failed to with there being no Congressional Nomination requirement for those applying to attend the Coast Guard Academy.

  • Anonymous

    The big question isn’t about entry for minorities but retention. The USNA, since ADM Larson’s tenure, has fast tracked minorities with GPA’s below 2.0 into “special study” programs that bypass admiral’s mast. In doing so the Academy can “honestly” report to congress: “Out of all the midshipmen who have gone to Admiral’s Mast for academic deficiency x% were x race, y% were y race, z% were z race…”. A dirty secret but this is how they are able to keep admission and disenrollment percentages equal among races.