Monday, April 20, 2009

Should the military academies be closed?

When an institution becomes expensive and doesn’t produce products that are particularly unique or better than other institutions then it may be time to consider shutting it down. Tom Ricks thinks we’ve reached that point with our service academies in that we have less expensive, and more democratic, alternatives. He advocates shutting down West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy, and using the savings to expand ROTC scholarships:
After covering the U.S. military for nearly two decades, I've concluded that graduates of the service academies don't stand out compared to other officers. Yet producing them is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student). On top of the economic advantage, I've been told by some commanders that they prefer officers who come out of ROTC programs, because they tend to be better educated and less cynical about the military.

This is no knock on the academies' graduates. They are crackerjack smart and dedicated to national service. They remind me of the best of the Ivy League, but too often they're getting community-college educations. Although West Point's history and social science departments provided much intellectual firepower in rethinking the U.S. approach to Iraq, most of West Point's faculty lacks doctorates. Why not send young people to more rigorous institutions on full scholarships, and then, upon graduation, give them a military education at a short-term military school? Not only do ROTC graduates make fine officers -- three of the last six chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reached the military that way -- they also would be educated alongside future doctors, judges, teachers, executives, mayors and members of Congress. That would be good for both the military and the society it protects.

We should also consider closing the services' war colleges, where colonels supposedly learn strategic thinking. These institutions strike me as second-rate. If we want to open the minds of rising officers and prepare them for top command, we should send them to civilian schools where their assumptions will be challenged, and where they will interact with diplomats and executives, not to a service institution where they can reinforce their biases while getting in afternoon golf games. Just ask David Petraeus, a Princeton PhD.


TravelDiva said...

Thomas Ricks is an idiot and perhaps he should have done some research...

Here is a very good rebuttal point by point from the WP Communications Officer.

"As the Director of Communications at West Point, I feel compelled to respond. The cost to educate a student at a service academy is approximately the same as at any of the top tier universities, but the value is far greater than the cost.Our diverse nation needs diverse higher education opportunities and the service academies provide a unique experience that strengthens our nation.We provide not only 20% of the Army's second lieutenants, but also 60% of the officers with hard science degrees-and our Army needs those skills.Furthermore, our cadets, faculty and staff are actively engaged in supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and West Point itself is a beacon of excellence that people around the country, indeed around the world, see as an example of all that is best in America: a truly national, egalitarian institution with a true belief in the values of duty, honor, country. I am not a graduate of West Point, but I don't want to live in an America without a West Point.Mr. Rick's article has 6 specific arguments to address:

Point 1. "service academies [are] more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student).
"Rebuttal 1. A more accurate figure for the 4 year experience here is $202,000, which is equivalent to the 4-year cost of graduating a student from any of the country's top-tier universities . . . and those students generally take more than 4 years to graduate. And college and universities across the nation also receive funding from federal and state governments.An accurate cost comparison takes a lot more analysis than shown in this op-ed.

P2. "On top of the economic advantage, I've been told by some commanders that they prefer officers who come out of ROTC programs, because they tend to be better educated and less cynical about the military."
R2. I can't address this specifically, as this is his personal anecdotal evidence, but this has not been my experience in 29 years in the Army-and I was commissioned through Univ. of Mass. ROTC.

P3. "Too often they're getting community-college educations."
R3. Nothing against the many fine Community Colleges, but in the past year alone, three national organizations have ranked West Point in the top 10 of all 4,000 colleges and universities in the nation:. ranked West Point as the sixth best college or university in America as well as the most "surprising" pick-surprising even Mr. Ricks apparently . . . and West Point finished ahead of his alma mater, Yale . U.S. News and World Report says West Point is the "Top Public Liberal Arts College" [the Naval Academy was second] and has the fifth-best "Undergraduate Engineering Program" in the nation.. said West Point was the sixth best in the nation, behind only Stanford, MIT, Princeton, Cornell, and CalTech. (Again ahead of Mr. Rick's Yale.) Furthermore, in the past century West Pont graduates have been awarded more than 80 Rhodes Scholarships, 4th most in the nation behind only Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Just last year our Cadet First Captain Jason Crabtree was so honored.

P4. "most of West Point's faculty lacks doctorates."
R4. All of our faculty have advanced degrees, but approximately 50% are rotating faculty, active duty officers who do not have a doctorate. However, I challenge Mr. Ricks to actually walk around campuses of America's "elite"schools and see how many undergraduate classes are being taught by teaching assistants-smart, hardworking and dedicated, but usually without even a master's degree. There are no teaching assistants at West Point and the largest class here has 18 students-the Dean has to approve any class with 19 or more students.

P5. [Send to ROTC and] "they also would be educated alongside future doctors, judges, teachers, executives, mayors and members of Congress."
R5. West Point cadets ARE future doctors, judges, teachers, executives, mayors and members of congress. While their military successes are legendary, their impact on the civilian world is just as great.Currently, Dave Heineman is Governor of Nebraska; Rhesa Barksdale is a U. S.judge; William Taylor, Jr. is Ambassador to Ukraine; Fletcher Lamkin is President of Westminster College; Daniel Kaufman is President of Georgia Gwinnett College; Marshall Carter is Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange; Marshall Larsen is Chairman and CEO of Goodrich; and Michael Krzyzewski is the Duke basketball coach. And 6 members of Congress either graduated from West Point or were on the faculty.

P6. "We should also consider closing the services' war colleges . . . Just ask David Petraeus, a Princeton PhD."
R6. Mr. Ricks closing example is outrageous in an article with the headline "Why We Should Get Rid of West Point" as General Petraeus is both a graduate of West Point and a member of our what we call our second graduating class, having been an asst. professor here in the mid-1980's."

Anonymous said...

Interesting article that raises some valid points. West Point in particular produces some of the most pompous, self serving, officers I have ever met (some are good others are an absolute waste). This school provides nothing a good ROTC or OCS graduate does not have. I am curious why the US Coast Guard Academy and US Merchant Marine Academy are never mentioned ?
I can vouch for USCGA (although I am a civilian college to OCS type senior officer myself) as I have seen many of my CGA peers who have led with distinction. Now that the Ivy League schools have re-introduced ROTC/NROTC/AFROTC why do we need to continue with West Point and AF Academy? The Naval Academy is still a value added to the armed forces (for now). Just my opinion but I would think the cuts should be West Point and AF academy. Keep USCGA (although increase the minority recruitment and graduation rates), Keep USNA (until such time as they are no longer producing quality grads), and keep USMMA (although I would consider consolidating USCGA and USMMA).