Recent decisions by the U.S. Naval Academy have shown that we are off course when it comes to diversity.
In June 2009, Professor Bruce Fleming shed light on the Academy's diversity application process. Fleming is (or at least was) a longtime member of the Academy's admissions board. His description of a "two-track" admissions system—one for whites and one for non-whites—is now well documented and closely followed. Two posts on the Naval Institute blog garnered a combined 201 reader comments, far higher than most topics.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead and Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Jeffrey Fowler were quoted as saying "diversity is [the] number one priority" at the Academy. The number one priority should be nothing short of academic excellence and focused leadership to prepare young Americans to lead Sailors in combat. Considering the (unwritten) two-track admissions policy and the attention paid to recent diversity statistics, it appears the Navy has lost sight of the Academy's purpose and the true role of diversity.
The Naval Academy made news again recently for replacing two white members of the Color Guard at game two of the World Series with minority midshipmen. That evolution didn't turn out quite like expected, as one of the minority students—who had not initially earned a spot on the detail—was unable to participate because of a forgotten uniform item. Apparently Academy leadership wanted the honor guard to represent the diversity of the institution. What really took place was discrimination against the non-minority members who had previously earned the right to participate.
Military leaders are keen to state that diversity is good, but they seem averse to explaining why. Take for instance the Chief of Naval Operations Diversity Policy. The first sentence states "[d]iversity has made our Nation and Navy stronger." Sounds great, right? And who would dare say the contrary? But such a strong statement deserves explanation. The Diversity Policy goes on to discuss a lot about how the Navy shall treat people, but these are statements about equal opportunity, not diversity. The two subjects are closely related, but they're not quite the same.
The opening paragraph of the Department of the Navy Diversity Policy Statement is much better, but the second paragraph includes a similarly grand statement without explanation: ". . . understanding the impact of a diverse workforce on the Department's readiness is vital to accomplishing the mission in the 21st Century." Combat effectiveness, courageous leadership, state-of-the-art weapons, and many other attributes are vital to accomplishing the mission, but without explanation, diversity doesn't make the grade. Speaking of grades, is diversity really so vital that it overrides academic excellence as a prerequisite to enter the Naval Academy?
Neither of these policy documents attempts to explain the benefits of diversity. If service leadership truly wants the force to understand and appreciate the benefits of a diverse workforce, they should provide details. It appears we are all left to figure it out for ourselves or accept it in blind faith. Most of us recognize some of the benefits, but only from our personal perspective, a perspective generally far short of a service-wide understanding.
To be certain, there are advantages to having a diverse military in a country as diverse as ours. There is also a place for diversity in admissions decisions at the Naval Academy, but only when it does not come at the expense of more qualified applicants. Diversity as a tiebreaker between two fully and equally qualified applicants might be justifiable if the minority applicant also happens to have unique cultural knowledge and language skills that provide a measurable benefit to our globally engaged force. As described by Professor Fleming, the current process provides no such measurable benefit.
Judging people by the color of their skin instead of the content of their character is wrong, whether it is used to their disadvantage or benefit. Our diversity policy should be to attract the best, whomever and wherever they may be, and to guarantee fair treatment for all, and preferential treatment for none. Until our policies reflect a commitment to treat everyone fairly, the goal envisioned by Martin Luther King Jr. will go unfulfilled. Our leaders hold the key to setting the proper course.