• Has DEI Become More Important Than Academics At The Air Force Academy?

    November 16, 2023
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    By Scott Sturman

    In 2013 the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) Superintendent Lt. General Michael Gould introduced a formal DEI program at the institution.  In his comments he repeatedly lauded the benefits of DEI and acknowledged that its importance was no less than the academy's vaunted academic program.  At the time one could conclude that the general was exaggerating DEI's unproven advantages in order to draw media attention to the sudden adaptation of a transformative philosophy of cadet training.  Now, ten years later, it appears that DEI has usurped the academic department’s predominance.

    From the fall of 2017-2018, six permanent professors, including a department chairman, resigned from the Air Force Academy.  The timing, circumstances, and reasons are unknown, but in a statement published last week all of the professors pointed to sweeping cultural changes at USAFA.  In the open letter they detail the actions of the Dean of Academics, who was disdainful of the Honor Code and averse to academic excellence. He developed academic courses of low expectations to adapt to the scholastic aptitude of intercollegiate athletes. An atmosphere of intimidation silenced full professors, as the dean transferred power and influence to civilian faculty members.  The degradation of the academic experience is so complete that the professors wonder if recovery is possible.

    The academic distinction between USAFA and civilian institutions is becoming less evident.  Currently, civilians constitute 42% of the academic department.  According to the U.S. News' Best College Rankings, USAFA's national ranking in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category improved from #39 to #18 from 2020 to 2022.  Astronautical and aeronautical engineering rate best in the country but only among institutions that do not offer doctorate degrees—a low benchmark compared to historic norms, when the academy's engineering education equaled the most prestigious engineering schools in the nation. 

    As academics falter, DEI is ascendent.  The placement of political officers within the ranks of the armed forces is ubiquitous in totalitarian cultures, where anonymous accusations, psychological pressure, and propaganda are employed to exact complete compliance.  The potential for abuse of power and intimidation cannot be overstated.  Diversity and Inclusion Representatives have been installed in all cadet squadrons, and they report parallel and outside the military chain of command to the academy's DEI Chief, Dr. Joseph Looney.  Looney, a psychologist and counselor by training, earned his Diversity and Inclusion certificate from Cornell University, an institution that has been criticized for its "outstanding perversion of academic values."

    The two cases of White Boy #2 illustrate the infringement of one’s human rights when academics and DEI collide. Casandra Benson, a Cornell University graduate, teaches economics at USAFA.  In a lecture given in January 2023, Professor Benson addressed minority cadets by their proper names but declined to do so when calling on white male cadets.  She glibly announced that since all white people look alike, she would refer to them by number.  One young man was christened White Boy #2, much to the mortification of the cadets in the class. But Professor Benson continued directing verbal assaults at her victim, whose only crime was to be the recipient of his parents’ genes.  Professor Benson's actions were reported, but the academy declined to comment on her employment status.  Given Professor Benson's antics and Dr. Looney's immense power, the link between Cornell University and USAFA is alarming. 

    White Boy #2 became the brunt of another unprovoked race-based attack in a military leadership class at the hands of Colonel Melissa Youderian, who asked him to explain his white privilege.  The level of intimidation in a military academy environment cannot be trivialized, when one's inquisitor, who is both an instructor and a colonel, forces a subordinate to account for a situation for which he has no control.  To the cadet's credit, he clarified that he, like all the other cadets in the class, was privileged to attend USAFA and the opportunity to serve his country. His frank and mature response earned him a "C" in a class where written tests are not taken and grades are awarded at the professor's discretion. 

    In June 2023 Brig. General Gavin Marks was appointed USAFA Commandant of Cadets and vowed to change the culture at USAFA.  He has failed to define what is wrong with the culture, how he intends to change it, or the objective in doing so. He has stated that nothing erodes trust and performance faster than disrespecting the dignity of your teammates.  But dignity is an illusory construct—an unquantifiable goal that has no measurable outcome.  How will it be leveraged to further his passionate commitment to DEI, a program that has so far prioritized diversity of identity over diversity of opinion?

    General Marks has openly referenced the comprehensive USAFA Leaders of Character Manual, which among subjects, governs the controversial Diversity and Inclusion Representatives program.  The same manual also relegates the Constitution to the level of a "philosophical foundation" rather than the guarantor of individual rights and the basis of law. General Marks has on occasion in public given the black power salute while in uniform.  His intentions are concerning, difficult to interpret, and elicit strong emotions. In the aftermath of the football team's coaching staff's production of a social media video supporting Black Lives Matter and the team's historical connections to large scale Honor Code scandals involving cheating on examinations, Marks' gestures and comments provide further evidence that DEI has indeed eclipsed academics at USAFA. 

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