Pentagon Considering Ending Race-Sensitive Admissions at Preparatory Schools of the U.S. Military Academies

The latest figures show that blacks are about 6 percent of the student bodies at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy. At the U.S. Air Force Academy, 4 percent of the students are black.

About 40 percent of the black students who enroll at one of the U.S. military academies are initially recruited to attend a one-year program at a preparatory school where they are generally brought up to the academic standards of entering students. The academies have used these preparatory schools as an important tool to increase the racial diversity of their student bodies. Many recruited athletes at the military academies also attend these preparatory schools.

But now high-ranking officials in the U.S. Air Force have requested a policy change that would prohibit the academies from giving blacks and other minorities preference in admission to their preparatory academies.

The proposal to change the admissions procedures came to light at a meeting of the board of visitors at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In an unusual break within the ranks, the academy’s superintendent, Lt. General John F. Regni, voiced opposition to the proposed change. Officials at the Air Force Academy said that if the proposed rule were to go into effect, it undoubtedly would lead to a substantial drop in minority student enrollments.

The Air Force Academy reported that only 30 of the 1,060 students who will enter the academy this summer right out of high school are black. But the academy hopes to bolster the black percentage of the incoming class by admitting a large number of black students from the academy’s preparatory school.

Many career military officers have been firm supporters of affirmative action. They recognize the fact that they need a large group of black and other minority officers to lead the increasingly racially diverse armed forces. Generals Wesley Clark, Colin Powell, and Norman Schwarzkopf have all voiced their support for race-sensitive admissions in higher education.

But some high-ranking officials in the Pentagon appear to have placed conservative ideology in front of the military’s desire for greater racial diversity in its officer ranks.