This story originally was published by Real Clear Wire
By Bruce Fleming
Real Clear Wire
This is an excerpt from Bruce Fleming’s new book, Saving Our Service Academies (Post Hill Press).
Applicants who self-identified as a member of a race the Academy wished to privilege—at the time I was on the Admissions Board it was African American, Hispanic, and Native American—were briefed separately to the committee not by a white member but by a minority Navy lieutenant. Briefings (a minute and forty seconds per applicant, no more) ran through a number of factors quite quickly and offered a recommendation that we had been told was appropriate: “qualified” for USNA if grades A/B for white applicants (but not minorities, who needed only C grades), 600 score in each part of the SAT for white applicants (but about 550 for minorities who come to USNA without remediation), and Whole Person Multiple (points given for grades/tests, school leadership positions, and sports) of at least 55,000 for whites, no bottom for minorities.
This is aside from the fact that 20 percent of the class could be sent to the remedial, taxpayer-supported prep school for a year, also with no minimum for scores. Other possible recommendations included a year at a civilian prep school that the Naval Academy Foundation pays for, where they also do a thirteenth year (the profile for this was white lacrosse players, not black football players), and USNA “pool,” a sort of wait list for nonrecruited whites, who typically weren’t tracked to NAPS or Foundation schools. The athletic department offered its list of recruits that were invariably deemed “qualified” no matter how low in scores, because many if not most to go to NAPS and only a few to USNA directly.
Race in America is a complex question that we have no silver bullet for. We’d like to see everybody playing happily in the academic sandbox together, as well as elsewhere in society at large. However, in academic institutions with limited places, we have a problem—especially at an institution touted for academic rigor and that taxpayers fund for one specific job. Blacks, on average, consistently score lower than whites (who score lower than Asians) on standardized tests. The choices are simple. If you want students who look a certain way but tend to score lower than others, you accept the lower scores and stop talking about your standards. Or you go with the class that can meet these standards and stop talking about the way they look. The Naval Academy tries to square the circle by both bragging about its standards and letting in half the class to lower standards. No wonder they were furious that I pointed this out. All educational institutions have this problem to some degree; the academies are just worse than others. And in 2023, the Supreme Court said we’re legal in doing so, whereas all others are not.
I’ve had some brilliant black students over three decades, and quite a few really nice ones. I’ve taught classes at both ends of our ability spectrum—our honors classes and our remedial precollege English classes, which are almost all filled with black and Hispanic students, most of whom have just come from the remedial, taxpayer-funded thirteenth grade at the prep school. I usually love them as people, and the warmth I show them usually melts the ice when they heard they got Professor Fleming, the one who “hates the football team.” I don’t hate the football team. I just don’t think we should be recruiting them to play Division I, which takes up slots better all-around qualified candidates (like your kids?) could have filled. But they got the offer, and here they are, so I’m going to give it my all, and hope to inspire them to do the same.
Some of the African American kids are the most disappointed of all. One brilliant young woman from New York City announced in my office some years ago, “I should have gone to Howard.”
“Why?” I said.
“Because I am so tired of being stereotyped as black,” she said. “In New York nobody is anything. But here they want me to join the gospel choir. I can’t sing. And I hate this channeling of the black kids so the administration looks good.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s a problem. But don’t give up. Just be you.”
“Hmmm,” she said. “Hard at this place.”
“Tell me about it,” I said.
In 2021, the Academy issued a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan whose lead picture has a black male midshipman standing as Brigade Commander in front of a phalanx of white males. A former military instructor in the History Department and USNA graduate J.A. Cauthen, in an article entitled “The US Naval Academy is Adrift” objects—and it’s hard to disagree with him that this plan “will erode the competency of future officers and imperil our national security.”
He quotes the plan as saying that the Naval Academy “will develop a diversity and inclusion checklist and schedule to inventory and assess all academic classes and training events,” something I saw beginning as I was being forced out of the classroom. It will “partner with Academic Departments in conducting comprehensive curriculum review prioritizing the inclusion of marginalized scholarship and hidden histories within midshipmen education.” And he asks a question relevant to my situation: “What will be the fate of those who will not comply, given their belief in, and right to, academic freedom?”
I can answer that question already. Academic freedom doesn’t exist at Annapolis. And those who do not repeat the party line unquestioningly, such as (um, yes) your humble correspondent, will be relentlessly pursued and fired. Cauthen goes on with his quote: The Naval Academy “will develop a confidential process for reporting bias incidents”—for what it calls “nonpunitive informational purposes” to “identify areas for potential additional training.” My experience suggests that “nonpunitive” is bunkum. Indeed, Cauthen points out that all of this comes with the whip hand of the UCMJ and quotes Article 917 as saying that
“Any person subject to this chapter who uses provoking or reproachful words or gestures toward any others person subject to this chapter shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
All this comes with something called the DPE Program, Diversity Peer Educator Program, including a confidential system to report “bias incidents.” I’ve seen it all before with sexual assault training. And he asks: “will a DEI agenda propagating woke ideology prepare future leaders to wage and win wars against our enemies? Those who believe so are either blind or worse.” But of course, the service academies have long since moved on from preparing leaders to wage and win wars. Now they’re about enforcing by military rather than constitutionally permitted means (even against civilians) the obsessions of a certain sector of society.
Over the course of my decades teaching literature, I’ve had to answer these questions:
What’s the point of reading (say) Shakespeare? Or Toni Morrison? Is the point different for future officers than for anybody else? If so, how? I don’t think the point is to check the box through reading works by someone of a certain skin color or sexual orientation. There has to be a higher purpose. But teaching everything according to categories of race, gender, and sexual orientation is what has supplanted sexual assault training as topic A at Annapolis: hiring and teaching courses in gay, Latino/a, and African American literature focused on the experiences of recent immigrants to the exclusion of almost everything else, usually to emphasize how tough they had it. For example, two out of three upper-level senior seminars English majors could choose from in Spring 2023 were “The Queering of the Renaissance” and “Queer Communities in Film and Literature.” We have courses in post-colonial studies, African American studies, and Native American Studies, and a “diversity” requirement. I guess we’re really with the Zeitgeist!
Recent hiring emphasizes minority racial and sexual-orientation groups. And now the faculty get relentless “training” in DEI with newly hired administrators to enforce the rules—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In our English Department, there is now a faculty committee to vet faculty syllabi to ensure that an acceptable number of works about and by nonwhite authors are taught. It’s all intensely political, and usually with an edge of resentment: our kind didn’t get or don’t have as much as your kind! In fact, these kinds of resentment studies have nothing to do with being a good officer. Having a sense of what separates people, sure. How about what unites them? And if you as an officer see yourself as radically different from people with a different skin color––and groups of your subordinates with different skin colors as lacking a common goal––military cohesion is torn asunder. This is military suicide, shooting ourselves not merely in the foot but in the head. How about we emphasize commonality and deal with difference as it comes up rather than assuming it? It’s insulting to say “I see that you have a different skin color, so I can tell you we have little in common”—aside from destructive of military cohesion.
Bruce Fleming has taught at the U.S. Naval Academy since 1987.
This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.