Bruce Fleming has been an English professor at the United States Naval Academy for twenty-two years and has served as a member of USNA’s Admissions Board. He has expressed concerns over the Academy’s 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:
Here’s 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 I’m 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. “Diversity is our number one priority” 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 “diversity,” 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 “most diverse ever” at 35% minority. At the same time I’m 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 aren’t there: I don’t.
It’s a two-track system: whites have to excel to get in, non-whites don’t 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. That’s scary. It’s also immoral. At the Naval Academy in Annapolis and arguably in the military, we’re back to the childhood I remember on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, with separate water fountains for the “colored people.” Only the water fountains for non-whites now are much better than those for the whites. Is this the way our “post-racial” 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, we’ve 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 “direct” 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). We’re in an “anything it takes” mode to get them, and in an “anything it takes” 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 it—or eliminate it altogether. That’s what we’ve done. USNA administration officials have said in public that “SAT scores are not good predictors for minority students.” 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 wasn’t 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 taxpayer’s 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 it’s 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 it’s doing—misdirecting 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 “we don’t lower standards for minorities.” I suppose if you twist that enough it’s just misleading, rather than a lie: we don’t “lower” (as a verb) because the standards for minorities are already “lower” (adjective). We’ll 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 “not qualified.” The black one is voted “qualified”. A “qualified” (to a lower standard) minority candidate has a seat reserved; a “qualified” white candidate competes with other “qualified” ones for the remaining seats. If they’re not even this qualified, we send them to Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS), which is overwhelmingly minority. Here they are ‘remediated’ 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 we’ll 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 doesn’t mean that all minority midshipmen are weak; I’ve had some stellar ones in my career. However they all got in ‘direct’ (which white applicants don’t): lowering the bar doesn’t mean all needed it that low.
None of this is written down, it’s just the game rules I learned on the Admissions Board. We were told not to write anything down because “everything is “FOI”able”— it can be demanded under the Freedom of Information Act.
After being on the Admissions Board, I understood a lot of what I’d seen in the classroom. I realized that there was a close to 100% correlation between the students who just couldn’t get basic concepts and couldn’t 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 “diversity policy” that has been cited repeatedly when “affirmative action” 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 CNO’s “diversity policy” begins as follows: “Diversity 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.” Who can disagree with that? But isn’t that just the opposite of race-tracking and separate water fountains?
Even if it’s illegal, it might be we could understand why it’s a good idea, somehow, in some form. Only the military isn’t good at providing justification. We’re told the navy has to “look like” 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 military’s salaries to defend them.
This is the demand for justification that I’m issuing here. In the military, none of it happens. We decide what we’re going to do, keep it secret if possible and in any case “inside the walls,” as the military says. We assert loudly that what we do is serving the policy, and that’s the end of the story. Only it isn’t. The military is here to protect the Constitution. They need to be reminded that they can’t violate it.
For more about Bruce Fleming, his book about the Naval Academy “Annapolis Autumn” and the forthcoming “Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide: What Each Side Needs to Know About the Other, and About Itself,” 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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