Shipping In: For a Second Consecutive Year, the Naval Academy Has Admitted Its Most Diverse Class, and Its Work Isn't Done

By Cooper, Kenneth J. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, September 3, 2009 | Go to article overview

Shipping In: For a Second Consecutive Year, the Naval Academy Has Admitted Its Most Diverse Class, and Its Work Isn't Done


Cooper, Kenneth J., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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Sixty years after graduating its first Black midshipman, Wesley Brown, the U.S. Naval Academy has admitted its most diverse class, which boasts the largest numbers and percentages of African-Americans and Hispanics ever to enter Annapolis.

The academy has touted the racial and ethnic composition of the class of 2013 as the result of aggressive outreach and as a future benefit to the Navy, which has a stated priority of diversifying its officer corps to match its enlisted ranks and the country's changing demographics. The class is 35 percent minority.

That level of diversity tops the previous record, set a year ago. This year, the number of minority applicants jumped 57 percent, even more than the 40 percent increase in the overall applicant pool. Naval Academy officials say the 15,432 applications received were the most since 1988, when the movie "Top Gun" inspired a rush to get into Annapolis.

"Our depth of talent this year was pretty substantial," says Bruce Latta, dean of admissions and a retired Navy captain.

To reach the record level of diversity, recruiters went into high schools whose minority graduates might make good prospects.

"There's talent in every community in the nation, and we have to look for it," Latta says. "Often we find they don't know about us until we approach them."

Each summer, rising high school seniors are invited to spend a week on the Annapolis campus to try out life at the academy. Enrollment in the "summer seminar" has expanded to 2,250; last year, nearly half were minorities.

For the upcoming round of admissions, those efforts will be supplemented by the distribution of 100,000 copies of a graphic novel released in May, "Bravo Zulu," named for a naval signal that means "well done." Minority characters are prominent in the 12-page story about five midshipmen on Induction Day at the Naval Academy.

A vocal critic on campus, however, has questioned the fairness of the admissions process, how much minority talent it attracts and the military value of a more diverse officer corps.

Dr. Bruce Fleming, an English professor, says he observed different standards applied to White and minority applicants six years ago when he served on the academy's admissions board. He insists nothing much has since changed about the admissions process, which he charges violates federal law and the Constitution.

"I'm completely against racial tracking," says Fleming, who identifies himself as a liberal. "I'm willing to believe they think they're doing the right thing. It's just illegal."

With the federal courts dominated by conservative Republican appointees, such criticism usually sends college or university lawyers scurrying to head off a potential lawsuit. The Naval Academy, though, has not moved into a defensive position.

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Latta and other academy officials say Fleming is mistaken about how admissions works now or worked when he was involved in screening applicants in 2002-2003 as a member of the admissions board. That was before the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2003 last ruled limiting the use of race in college admissions.

The court's ruling against undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan prompted selective universities across the country to review their practices. Senior Navy lawyers who examined what the Naval Academy was doing, Latta says, "felt we were in compliance with the University of Michigan case." He characterized the changes since adopted based on their recommendations--basically, asking applicants for more information about their personal experiences--as "nothing substantial."

To some extent, how the Naval Academy and the country's other service academies do admissions differs from what happens at other colleges because federal law and Pentagon regulations govern the procedure. To be admitted, applicants generally have to obtain a nomination from a member of Congress. …

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