On the Value of Academic Tenure

By lex, on June 15th, 2009

At Navy. Hard to know that Professor Fleming would otherwise be able to write like this:

The Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead announced in Annapolis recently that “diversity is the number one priority” at the Naval Academy.

The Naval Academy superintendent, Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, echoed him. Everyone understands that “diversity” here means nonwhite skins.

Fowler insisted recently that we needed to have Annapolis graduates who “looked like” the Fleet, where enlisted people are about 42 percent nonwhite, largely African American and Hispanic.

The stunning revelation last week was that the Naval Academy had an incoming class that was “more diverse” than ever before: 35 percent minority.

Sounds good, only this comes with a huge price tag. It’s taxpayers who bankroll the military. Yet nobody has asked us if we’re willing to pay this price. Instead we’re being told there is no price to pay at all. If you believe that, you probably also believe in the Tooth Fairy.

I’ve tried hard to understand this behavior, and I’m still not getting it. I mean, I understand the “feel good” aspect of being seen to have an officer corps that looks more like the fleet. I think I understand the political good will it can bring the service. I understand that people want to look around inside an organization and see people they can relate to as peers and mentors. But I can’t help feeling that we’re trying a little too hard.

Can diversity really be the “number one priority” at an institution whose mission is to “develop Midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government”?

Diversity goals are intangibles and smart senior officers – you don’t get to put on three or four stars without being pretty darn smart – tend to run their business lines analytically. I’d like to see the slides the flags pass around behind the closed door that’s driving this behavior, because from the outside looking in, it’s pretty damned impenetrable.

Used to be we were issued uniforms to help us put away our innate differences in skin color and submerge them in a service culture of undifferentiated excellence. Now it seems we’re selecting officer candidates differentially by virtue of those innate differences. Differences which, though they might be innate and immutable, have nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the individual’s character or potential for useful service.

I honestly don’t feel too bad for the white kid with the C in math who doesn’t get in to Navy. He’ll be all right. I worry about the kid who had an unexceptional academic career that finds himself in a two-tiered institution, knowing that he’s got a long uphill slog ahead of him to reach the finish line, and that just about every white face he sees will always be ahead of him in the race. I’d hate to be the truly gifted “diverse” candidate who looks around him and wonders whether people will recognize his gifts for what they are, or whether they will instead assume he’s the product of some quota system.

I worry about the fleet CO who sees two young junior officers showing up on his quarterdeck, both of them Naval Academy graduates. The white ensign, he will know, had to be exceptional just to get in the door. The other guy?

He’ll maybe wonder about him.

That’s not fair to anybody.

 

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex

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