Posted on May 9, 2007

Defense Department May Restrict U.S. Service Academies’ Affirmative-Action Efforts

Peter Schmidt, Chronicle of Higher Education, May 9, 2007

The nation’s military-service academies could be stripped of one of their chief tools for bringing in black, Hispanic, and American Indian students as a result of regulatory changes being considered by the Department of Defense, officials of the U.S. Air Force Academy said on Tuesday.

The proposed change in the Defense Department’s directives to its service academies would end the institutions’ ability to favor minority and female applicants in determining admissions to their affiliated “academy preparatory schools,” which offer an additional year of academic instruction to students viewed as unready to enter the service academies themselves.

About 40 percent of the black, Hispanic, and American Indian students who enroll in the Air Force Academy each year gain admission by going through a 10-month regimen of instruction in English and mathematics, as well as some fitness and military training, at a preparatory school that the academy operates on its campus, according to Col. William D. Carpenter, the academy’s director of admissions.

The other service academies under the Defense Department’s control—the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis—similarly use such preparatory schools to help diversify their ranks.

The proposed revision in the Defense Department’s directives would eliminate a reference to “minorities, including women” among the groups that should be given “primary consideration for enrollment” in the preparatory schools.


The U.S. Supreme Court had cited concern for the diversity of the nation’s military leadership in upholding the consideration of race by college admissions offices in its 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision, involving the law school at the University of Michigan.

The author of that decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, said she had been swayed by a friend-of-the-court brief signed by a long list of retired military leaders, including Gen. Wesley K. Clark, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, and Adm. William J. Crowe. The brief had argued that “a highly qualified, racially diverse officer corps educated and trained to command our nation’s racially diverse enlisted ranks is essential to the military’s ability to fulfill its principal mission to provide national security.” Hearkening back to the Vietnam War, in which tensions between black enlisted men and white officers led to violence, the brief called an integrated officer corps “a military necessity.”