Not a pretty picture: Sorry state of U.S. military academies

U.S. military service academies all have engineering programs that are nationally ranked, but their value as a means of creating leaders, or educating officers, recently have come into question in an essay by a professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy. On the Chronicle of Higher Education web site, Prof. Bruce Fleming says it costs about $400,000 (more or less) to educate each officer candidate at an academy and questions whether the process is worth it, particularly because there is little evidence the academies produce leaders any better than ROTC programs. Fleming relates:

"No data suggest that ROTC officers are of worse quality than those graduating from the academies, who are frequently perceived by enlisted military as arrogant "ring-knockers" (after their massive old-style class rings). The academies evoke their glory days by insisting that many more admirals, say, come from Annapolis than from ROTC. But that is no longer true. Between 1972 and 1990 (these are the latest figures available), the percentage of admirals from ROTC climbed from 5 percent to 41 percent, and a 2006 study indicated that commissioning sources were not heavily weighted in deciding who makes admiral."

His most intense criticism is reserved for the Naval Academy:

"The best midshipmen and, as I know through conversations and written correspondence, the best students at the other service academies are deeply angry, disillusioned, and frustrated. They thought the academies would be a combination of an Ivy League university and a commando school. They typically find that they are neither....Most of what the Naval Academy's PR machine disseminates is nonsense, as midshipmen quickly realize, which diminishes their respect for authority. We announce that they're the "best and brightest" and then recruit students who would be rejected from even average colleges, sending them, at taxpayer expense, to our one-year Naval Academy Prepatory School. (About a quarter of recent entering classes over the last decade or so has SAT scores below 600, some in the 400s and even 300s. Twenty percent of the class needs a remedial pre-college year.)"

OK, but even if the academics at these institutions aren't great, the military aspects of the experience must be top notch, right? Wrong, says Fleming: "The military side of things suffers, too. Inspections are announced and called off at the last minute, or done sloppily. After all, everything is make-believe. Students aren't motivated to take care of their own uniforms or abide by the rules because they realize it's all just for show."

Fleming has several suggestions for fixing this mess. His whole essay is well worth reading: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Few-the-Proud-the/134830/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

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Lee Teschler

Leland serves as Editor-in-Chief of Machine Design. He has 34 years of Service and holds a B.S. Engineering from the University of Michigan, a B.S. Electrical Engineering from the University of...
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