March 10, 2011

Dear Members and Friends of the United States Naval Institute:

We are delighted by the current dialogue regarding the Mission Statement for the Institute cited below:

“The U.S. Naval Institute is an independent forum advocating the necessity of global seapower for national security and economic prosperity.”

The Board’s work regarding this Statement began in late 2009 and culminated in unanimous Board approvals at our meetings in July and October 2010 and again, with one dissent, in February 2011. The Board voted so because it believes that the Institute needs to gain financial stability and to be as relevant as possible to the Sea Services, to our members, to our donors, to our employees, and to the Nation itself, especially in these difficult times. We think it is possible both to be an independent forum which speaks “truth to power” and to advocate the importance of seapower.

You will recall that economic events of 2008-2009 were difficult for the Institute. Advertising revenues declined, donations shrank, and our endowment lost almost a third of its value. The Institute, led by our senior management team, became cash break-even in 2009 due to dramatic cost controls that remain in effect today. However, the reality is that print media business lines are not growing. The Naval Institute Foundation has enjoyed increases in major donor support and both corporate and foundation sponsorships in the last two years. But, there is no guarantee that these increases will continue, nor that past operational deficits will not reappear.

Of equal (if not greater) concern is that our membership, like many other nonprofit military associations, has declined significantly in the last two decades. These demographics speak directly to the relevance challenge that the Institute is facing and must be reversed if we are to survive. Our membership decline has provided another imperative for the Board to revitalize our mission statement. We must be relevant both to our traditional supporters and to prospective new ones.

The Board’s Mission Committee, led by VADM John Morgan, and including VADM Nancy Brown, VADM Norman Ray, and Mr. Donald Brennan, undertook to ask how the Institute can be most effective at a time when our military budgets will decline due to the United States’ federal deficits, just as external threats are increasing around the world. The Board agreed with the Mission Committee that the Sea Services are critical to our national defense, to American foreign policy and to protect maritime commerce and hence our economy.

We also believe that by proactively addressing the new national security environment, we will enhance our capability to attract members, donors and supporters and, specifically, increase our relevance to Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen. Finally, and most importantly, we found we could accomplish these changes without threatening the defining concept of the Institute, our independent forum, where our members can voice their views.

Under our revised mission statement, you will see an independent forum where we seek differing views and encourage tough examination of the issues, with both sides advocated. You will continue to see articles, books, conferences and an online experience that not only meet the traditionally high standards of USNI content, but which also will bring increased relevance to the world we confront now and the one we will confront tomorrow. In short, you will continue to see the Naval Institute as a thought leader in the national security arena.

The Preamble in the Constitution remains unchanged:

“The United States Naval Institute is a voluntary, private, nonprofit association formed in 1873 for the advancement of professional, literary, and scientific knowledge in the naval and maritime services, and the advancement of the knowledge of sea power.”

And, equally importantly, that Section 1 of Article XV of our Constitution (Limitations), continues verbatim:

“Notwithstanding any other provision in the Constitution and By-Laws, the Institute’s objectives are limited to and shall include only charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes within the meaning of those terms as used in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code, and all references to the objectives of the Institute shall be construed to include such limitation. The Institute shall not, except to an insubstantial degree, engage in any activities or exercise any powers that are not in furtherance of the objectives of the Institute as so limited.”

The Institute must still operate within these proven constraints. You will not see our Naval Institute as a “shill” for any service or program, a lobby to the Congress, or a house for one-track thinking, as some might worry. We know you would not wish or allow us to do so.

The Board’s intent in proposing that we revise the Mission Statement is to take the first important step in a strategic plan that will move the Institute to a stronger, more relevant future with increased financial stability. The Nation and the Sea Services need a vibrant, relevant Naval Institute to confront 21st century challenges – we must not go quietly into the night. The Board will work to keep us relevant, and we hope you will as well. We respectfully ask for your support and we look forward to continuing these efforts with you.

Stephen M. Waters
Chairman of the Board

Thomas L. Wilkerson
Major General, USMC (Ret)
Chief Executive Officer

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  • I’m sorry, I don’t follow…if essentially nothing will change with the new mission statement, then why change the mission statement at all?

  • JohnByron

    Your rhetoric against the plain-language of the proposed change to the mission statement.

    Your word that the preamble will remain after the Board’s vote last July to remove it and no reversal of that decision.

    Your first statement on 14 March regarding a ballot initiative on which voting started in February.

    Your argument in vacuo against the strenuous counter-arguments of all other commenters.

    Your slate of Directors for election with no procedure for members to pose an alternate slate, a procedure the By-Laws require the Board to issue.

    Your claim that all this is intended to increase membership as members – life members as myself – tell you we are resigning if the change passes.

    Your fundamental argument: “Trust me.”

    I don’t.

  • So, is it a done deal? Revision accepted??

  • Byron

    NOW they talk to us…. Thanks for the discussion, we really appreciated it, Mom and Dad.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    So the strategy to ensure a “stronger, more relevant future” for the Institute, is a gambit?

    You stated that the Institute has been on very shaky financial grounds since 08-09. According to the documents concerning the Theodore Roosevelt Center for Sea Power Studies that I read here, according to one of the documents the new center must be “entirely funded by the Naval Institute Foundation through restricted and unrestricted contributions from all sources ultimately leading to an endowed position”. With you citing as fact that the number of members of the institute is decreasing, how likely is it that we will see the funds to build the new Center and fund its personnel? I am all for a gambit when the rewards are worth it. I am in no way risk adverse. But, I disagree and would even call it a flaw in logic to think that, ‘if you build it, they will come’.

    You want more members? Spend more effort on finding us enlisted types. Do you know how it makes an organization seem when all you hear is ‘officer this, and officer that’. promote yourselves to the Enlisted Community. If you can, run it like the Navy and Marine Corps Society. Have a motivated member at each Fleet Concentration area go around and talk to the First Class and Chief’s Mess. Tell them it as part of their professional development, because it in fact is. After all, 17% (10 out of 59) of all the books in the Naval Professional Reading Program are from the Institute. Tell a First Class that reading those books will help him make Chief, he’ll read it and the Navy will be better for it.

    I would be very willing to entertain a lot of what is being proposed here if the way this was done was different. I’m incredibly new at Strategic Communications, I’ve only been doing it for close to three months. But, sending out membership cards with the revised Mission Statement already on it, as well as the Monthly Newsletter, that’s just plain wrong and not a good way to communicate. Because of those actions, I can’t help but read anything in support of this as spin, if not misdirection. Even when I examine my own bias in approaching this, and attempt to remove that bias from any logical approach to all this – actions speak louder than words.

    ps. My first attempt at using hypertext is in this comment, sorry if I gaff’d it up.

  • Fouled Anchor

    Lucien, you continue to impress. Outstanding response, particularly paragraph 2. The Institute is way too officer-centric. There is a huge enlisted population, like you, that is strategically and academically attuned. Like everything else in the maritime services, the enlisted force makes it happen. Keep it up shipmate!

  • P.S. Wallace

    While I thank Mr. Waters for his letter, it is my firm belief that this communication from the Board should have been done months ago, before any ballots were sent out. It wasn’t. When we consider that the Board itself admits that it has been at work on this issue for some time, that must raise some questions. One of the hardest being would there have been any communication on the issue at all if there had not been discussion (and more importantly, objections) on various blog boards? I have my own opinion on the subject.

    As is often the case in such things, the Board may very well be able to succeed in changing the mission statement and we will just have to see what we see. Perhaps things will be fine, perhaps not. Time will tell. But because this attempt at communication and persuasion lags the uproar, and did not lead it, I find I am peculiarly unwilling to grant the Board a forbearance of trust on the issue of the ultimate success or wisdom of the change. Especially when I consider that stationary and other official items of the Institute already contain the revised mission statement on them. The change in mission statement having already been de facto adopted, the de jure legitimization risks becoming seen as nothing more than a formality. For many reasons, I can never countenance such things.

    I’m sure the Board members work hard in attempts at betterment of the Institute and are trying to do the right as they can see the right. On the other hand, the mere fact that we have elections, and that members thus have veto powers, means that automatic deference is not a right the Board should expect. Therefore, I find that I cannot in good conscience give such a grant of trust to the Board at this time (as they implicitly ask for); have voted no already; will continue to support that vote; and believe that there is a good chance my affiliation with the Institute has come to an end absent some changes.

    This is because far more than the essence of this proposed change of the mission statement, I object to the methods that have been used thus far for implementation (most particularly the fact that the revised mission statement has already been de facto functionally adopted), and will not give such methods the tacit approval that my continued membership in the Institution would entail. This is not to mean “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” By no means. I just object to the lack of communication before this day, the fact that the new proposed mission statement is already on official items, the confusing electronic ballot, and some other things that I will not delve into at this time. I find these items sufficiently disagreeable to my feelings that I have no need to impugn motives or characters in order to sway others. Whether or not others find them sufficiently disagreeable is up to them, but for my own part I simply am not yet convinced of the wisdom of what the Board is doing and certainly am unconvinced by the way in which they are doing it. I therefore thank Mr. Waters for his letter, hope he and the rest of the Board intend to live by the spirit of it if the change is adopted, and urge others to vote no at this time.

  • JohnByron

    The degree of Chairman Waters’ dissimulation can be measured in his forcing General Wilkerson to sign on to a statement supporting a policy … which for opposing Wilkerson was fired by Waters and his Board.

  • Victor

    “The Board’s intent in proposing that we revise the Mission Statement is to take the first important step in a strategic plan…”

    What plan? Where is it?

  • Solon

    Seriously, let us return to first principles regarding the value of the Institute: provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense. Period.

    The issue cited is future fiscal viability…but what do we really (as members) need? One journal, one blog, and lots of ideas. Eliminate the conferences and events (save ’em for the advocacy groups), make the press self-sustaining (if a book isn’t commercially viable, then e-book it is), and eliminate most of the overhead and infrastructure.

    What we’re sustaining is a bloated, self-serving leadership cadre (broad brush? Yes, but the point is that tooth/tail is skewed), and getting ready to compromise our collective integrity to do so. Regardless of what Mr Waters says, the slope USNI is edging toward is so slippery as to be friction-less. Point of no return.

    I’m out.

  • KhakiPants

    Unnecessary revision of the mission statement is… well… unnecessary.

    If the Constitution you are bound to serve prohibits advocacy (“shill” as you call it), and you will continue as before to promote an independent forum where any well reasoned and competently argued position is welcome, then frankly, your revision makes no sense.

    The points made in the letter above about declining membership and declining funds are spurious at best. Your claims that the revision will “be more relevant” to both “current and prospective members” are not backed up by any evidence, strategy, or even the merest outline of plans.

    I don’t often agree with John Byron on many things; here we most certainly do. The gist of your letter is “Trust us” and I don’t either.

  • Byron

    You know, the part that galls me is the paternal tone of the response from the Board.

    “We’re sorry we used the big words on you, and we’re sorry we didn’t tell you what we did for your own good, but it’ll be best for all of this in the long run”

    Am I wrong?

  • JohnByron

    “And, equally importantly, that Section 1 of Article XV of our Constitution (Limitations), continues verbatim:
    “Notwithstanding any other provision in the Constitution and By-Laws, the Institute’s objectives are limited to and shall include only charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes within the meaning of those terms as used in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code, and all references to the objectives of the Institute shall be construed to include such limitation. The Institute shall not, except to an insubstantial degree, engage in any activities or exercise any powers that are not in furtherance of the objectives of the Institute as so limited.”
    The Institute must still operate within these proven constraints. You will not see our Naval Institute as a “shill” for any service or program, a lobby to the Congress, or a house for one-track thinking, as some might worry. We know you would not wish or allow us to do so.”

    This section of Waters’ letter is telling. First – having read just about every blog post and forum entry and open letter to the Board in this fracas – I must point out that, to my best recollection, the only person to use the word ‘shill’ is Mr. Waters himself. One senses a new-found sensitivity, but it’s his word…

    Second, the business about remaining a 501.(c).(3) organization is a deliberate red herring. Organizations all over the map have that tax status. The Navy League. The Air Force Association. The Association of the United States Army. Planned Parenthood. The NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund. Even the National Ku Klux Klan Museum. C’mon Steve, it’s a tax status, not a shield against legitimate critique and challenge. And it tells us nothing about the hidden motives and secret intentions of you and your cronies on the Board.

    Waters’ vague statement, his meandering rationale for even considering this initiative, his obviously intentional hiding of it from the membership until it was too late to protest either the ballot initiative or the slate of Directors self-nominating themselves for another demolition derby – too clever by half. If – when! – this madness is quashed by the membership, we can find out the true character of the six Directors who pushed it. Will they resign? If they have any honor left, yes; they must. Bets, anyone?

  • 1st LT

    Mr. Waters,
    Your letter is patronizing and insulting to the common sense of any Naval Officer and it is telling that you did not even snow over the YN2. You are excited? You have signed the warrant for the board’s imminent departure. This year or next year, take your pick, it is over.

  • The USNI should remain a place for honest, open and candid discussions about any and all subjects relating to the US Navy and seapower. It should not now, nor ever, “advocate” for anything. To do so lowers it’s position to that of another K-street prostitute, offering it’s services to the highest bidder. THAT is exactly the message that the proposed mission statement change will be.

    If the USNI is serious about open, honest and candid discussions, then becoming any sort of “advocate” is anathema to that goal. NO serving officer or enlisted man will dare to have their name attached to any article or position for fear of running afoul of both Naval regulations and the UCMJ regarding political participation, and/or running afoul of the zampolis of whichever party is currently in power.

    The USNI needs to remain a neutral place where all members may freely offer opinions, ideas, guidance, and seek objective criticism and responces to the same.

    In short, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


  • J. Jones

    If you had said this:

    In west Philadelphia born and raised
    on the playground my momma said most of my days
    chilling out, maxing and relaxing all cool
    and all shooting some b-ball outside of school
    when a couple of guys they were up to no good
    started making trouble in our neighborhood
    i got in one little fight and my mom got scared
    she said your moving in with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air.

    It would have been more believable.

  • Oh come on folks, all life is compromise, you give a little to get a little, that’s politics and how in particular, today’s world works in times of economic turmoil with so many fiscal demands to support troops all over the world. This is a great magazine, we have to keep it afloat. These are smart guys, they know how things work. They’ll figure out how to work both sides of the fence, they’re business leaders, right?

    I mean, if they have to reject an article here or there because it offends/attacks the piece of technology being offered by Mr. BIG, what’s the big deal – there are lots of other checks and balances in the system, right? So what if they have to tell someone, even a chief petty officer, they just can’t publish an article that tells some party “how to suck eggs.” Navy chiefs need to be toned down anyway. I mean Jeeze Louise, look at the big picture, they’re only changing a couple of words! They’re trying to save the ship, are they not?

    What’s a little “character” matter when your day job is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America?

    Somewhat respectfully
    Fly Navy, the BEST Always Have

  • RickWilmes

    If the comments are any indication into what the USNI membership values than it appears to me that the BoD is out of touch with reality.

    This ballot vote is a choice between independent thought vs. collective thought or group think.

    Voting no on the mission change will save the Institute. Voting yes will destroy it.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    At this time my schedule and budget prevent me from attending this year’s Annual Meeting. I hope and trust enough of those who dissent from the Board’s majority view do make the effort to attend and put forth, from the floor, a motion of No Confidence in the current Board. Short of that, if you have not yet voted, please do so, and if you think certain members of the Board should not be retained, then vote only for those individuals in whom you place your confidence.

  • Byron

    @Boris: Nicely done 😉

  • Mike Markowitz

    Am I the only one who noticed that the ballot distributed with the March issue of Proceedings was printed in an exceptionally small type face? And it was unusually inconvenient to fold and stuff into the provided envelope, which was not post-paid, but required the subscriber to provide a stamp? Am I paranoid, or was this a deliberate and carefully crafted vote-suppression strategy?

  • You know what I love about Sailors? They develop excellent bull$h!t detectors. Mr. Waters just tripped mine.

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  • LtCol Mark Stanovich, USMCR

    Mr. Waters,

    I must express my disagreement with your premise that it is possible to be an independent forum, while simultaneously being an advocacy group of any kind. The two, when it comes down to brass tacks, are mutually exclusive. The idea, certainly, that USNI will “advocate” both sides is somewhat preposterous, quite difficult to believe.

    In addition, the notion of speaking “truth to power” being advocacy is also a misrepresentation. “Truth”, as it is understood in an independent forum, needs no advocacy other than the expression of opinions following well-researched facts and rigorous, open debate.

    The idea that USNI should become an advocacy group seems more based upon the desire to wield influence rather than to serve the purpose which has been so superbly met since 1873. You see, USNI is influential because it is NOT an advocacy group, rather because it is the fertile ground from which should spring the thoughts and ideas of present and future leaders of our Naval Service, Navy and Marine Corps. To do otherwise will result in an irrevocable change of the basic character of USNI, and will push the Institute into irrelevance.

    There are many advocacy groups, professional, industrial, and policy advocates, some of whom are very effective and prominent. But none of those are the US Naval Institute. And once USNI becomes like one of them, it can never again be what it is now, as it is a line that cannot be re-crossed.

    The overwhelmingly negative response among the commentors here and in the other Naval and military blogs reflects the immense importance that those who think and read and write about topics of interest to the Navy and Marine Corps place upon the value of the independent forum, and the esteem with which the USNI is held as a facilitator of that discussion and those ideas.

    Adoption of a mission statement that makes USNI an advocacy group will drive many of those people, the backbone of USNI membership, away.

    ME Stanovich
    LtCol USMCR

  • DG

    You want more membership? Cast a wider net. As some other folks have said, go for the career enlisted force and show real value for JOs. This means providing more information and lessons learned for the deckplates, as well as providing insight into sailors and JO’s challenges for senior leadership.

    Publish more controversial pieces that stake out a position against prevailing conventional wisdom.

  • Stu

    Not convincing in the slightest.

    Pray tell, how does one go about renouncing a Life Membership in the organization?

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    DG has a superb, and concise, point…and to pile on…what sort of actions have the members of the board taken to encourage new membership?

    For that matter, what signal does it send when the board has not a single active duty or reserve member on it? Not. One.

    And the new ballot does nothing to change that imbalance.

  • Chap


  • I think that if I were a member of the Editorial Board, I would be interested in publishing the Directors’ defense of the mission change alongside the blog comments in the pages of Proceedings.
    Unfortunately, the few short paragraphs provided by the Directors would be overwhelmed by the arguments against the change provided on these postings. It wouldn’t be much of a debate, though the juxtaposition of passionate argument grounded in history against weak corporate double-speak would provide for some amusement.

  • DG

    What are some other things that could be done to make USNI more relevant and increase membership? Seek to inject USNI materials, including discussion guides, into initial accession training for officers, as well as advanced courses for department heads. Convince the PO1 that he must be conversant in the issues discussed in Proceedings if he hopes to make Chief. Don’t publish jargon-filled articles extolling the latest buzzwords – instead, tackle the hard issues. Utilize the power of the Internet to shorten the feedback look between soliciting for articles and publishing them, as well as continuing and extending excellent efforts such as the USNI Blog. Consider providing free hosting to the top Navy/Marine blogs such as CDR Salamander and TSSBP.

  • claudio

    Mr. Waters,

    Some lost more than a third of net worth in the last several years, however we did’t loose our integrity and sense of right and wrong. And the reasons for declining membership should be obvious to those without blinders on.

    The approach taken by the BOD on this issue makes the propaganda masters proud.