How the Naval Academy Achieves “Diversity”

Like kudzu spreading all over a southern hillside, the idea that “diversity” is a vital ingredient in educational success has taken over most American colleges and universities. Yes, there are a few hold-outs where officials don’t care about students’ ancestry and aren’t concerned with trying to balance the number of students who supposedly “represent” various groups. But if you assume that the U.S. Naval Academy would be among them, you’ll be disappointed.

Last month, Bruce Fleming, an English professor who has taught at the Naval Academy for 22 years, published an article in which he blew the whistle on the Academy’s manic pursuit of student body diversity. Fleming revealed that the Academy evaluates prospective students using two very different tracks, one for whites and another for “minority” students.

To be deemed “qualified” for admittance, a white student must have scores of at least 600 on each section of the SAT and high school grades of As and Bs. Those who make it that far then can get on a list of nominees drawn up by the member of Congress in whose district the student lives – usually 10 names. Thus, qualified white students have only about a ten percent chance of making it into the Naval Academy.

The standards for minority students are much less demanding. They can be voted “qualified” with SAT scores in the 500s and many C grades on their transcripts. And once declared “qualified” they’re accepted—no need for them to compete with other qualified students.

Furthermore, Fleming pointed out, the Academy runs a taxpayer-supported remedial school, the Naval Academy Preparatory School or NAPS) that takes in minority applicants with SAT scores as low as the 300s and high school transcripts with Cs and Ds. If those students come through a year at NAPS with a C average, they’re accepted. Even the low hurdle of the C average is often “re-negotiated” for those who those who don’t clear it.

Fleming is an English professor, not a lawyer, but he’s familiar with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Gratz v. Bollinger that universities may not favor applicants of one race over those of another in a “mechanistic” way. (In that case, undergraduate applicants to the University of Michigan were automatically given a substantial number of the points needed toward acceptance simply for saying they were black, Hispanic, or Native American.) He offers the opinion that the Naval Academy’s system of racial preferences is “probably unconstitutional” and says that he’d like to see it challenged in a lawsuit.

One thing that would work against such a suit is the secrecy with which the Academy has run it. Fleming was on the admissions committee several years ago and was instructed not to write anything down regarding the system to help foil Freedom of Information Act suits.

But isn’t there something to be said in favor of the Naval Academy’s quest for more “diversity”? This year’s incoming class will be more “diverse” than ever—35 percent. According to Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of Naval Operations, that’s a good thing because, he states, “diversity is the number one priority” at the school.

You might believe that producing the best possible officer corps for the Navy would be the top priority, but Roughead thinks in terms of groups. He contends that it is important for the academy’s student body to “look like the fleet.” Currently 42 percent of the enlisted men and women are nonwhite, so even the current high degree of preference isn’t quite enough.

Back in 1993, Bill Clinton said he wanted to have a cabinet that “looked like America” and ever since we’ve been stuck with the idea that it’s good if the composition of almost any collection of people mirrors the group composition of the whole nation.

Except as a useful political cliché, however, it’s hard to see any merit in that notion. Decisions are made by cabinet members, Navy officers, college presidents, and everyone else as individuals, not as representatives of groups. As Ward Connerly has so often said, (including in this 2005 Pope Center speech) America needs to get past its fixation on race. It’s far more sensible to select people by focusing on their specific strengths and weaknesses than to worry about filling quotas based on racial or other characteristics.

In a recent column, George Mason University professor Walter Williams (who, incidentally, is black) observed that using “affirmative action” as the Naval Academy does has a serious negative consequence. “Some black students, who were admitted to the academy meritoriously on the same basis as white students, resent the idea of being seen as having the same academic qualities as blacks who were given preferential treatment, in other words being dumb. Another level of resentment comes from white students who see blacks as being admitted and retained at lower levels of academic performance and being treated with kid gloves,” he wrote.

Williams maintains that schools that give minority students preferential treatment are actually doing them a disservice by concealing the effects of poor K-12 education and saying that mediocrity is good enough.

Bravo to Professor Fleming for having the guts to expose the Naval Academy’s blatant system of racial preferences. Now there can and should be a debate over the policy where the idea that “diversity” is the top priority is put in the witness box and grilled.