by Scott Sturman – Guest Editorial

The Air Force Academy’s shift from a military institution to a progressive, liberal arts school has not been a sudden change, but a methodical and calculated process. This transformation, which aims to politicize the training and perspectives of cadets, who make up a significant portion of annual Air Force officer commissions, is a cause for concern. It ensures a steady supply of influential officers who will apply and promote these ideas throughout their military and civilian careers.

Scott Kirby, a 1989 AFA graduate and the CEO of United Airlines, is a prime example of the type of graduate the academy’s administration aims to produce. He was invited as a keynote speaker at the annual National Character and Leadership Symposium, a platform designed to inspire and equip participants for honorable living and effective leadership. However, this year’s theme, “Valuing Human Conditions, Cultures, and Societies,” seems incongruent with the actions of Mr. Kirby, whose decisions and policies have been at odds with the challenges faced by the armed forces.

Mr. Kirby’s conduct as CEO of United Airlines and as a private citizen has raised serious concerns. During the Covid crisis, he was accused of violating the essential human and medical rights of United employees. Under his leadership, United Airlines became the first airline to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, a policy that was deemed to ignore the protections of the Nuremberg Code.  The Fifth Circuit Court even reversed a lower court decision, stating that the policy caused irreparable damage by forcing employees to choose between receiving the vaccine or being placed on unpaid leave.

Scott Kirby’s advocacy for climate change and DEI policies has led United Airlines to adopt a questionable business model. The company’s commitment to achieving a net-zero carbon policy by 2050, based on the same questionable evidence the DOD used for its Plan to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions, raises concerns. Kirby’s decision to implement race-based hiring quotas and his pledge to hire a new pilot staff consisting of 50% minorities or women by 2030, without considering merit or safety concerns, has sparked criticism and calls for a boycott of United Airlines.

As a father of seven children and CEO of a significant company, United customers expect a level of deportment consistent with his responsibilities. Kirby’s penchant for gender fluidity while dressing and performing as a drag queen raised questions about his common sense. His antics may have been innocent, but such behavior celebrates a lifestyle meant to sexualize children and damage the family unit.

In varying degrees, Mr. Kirby’s controversial views are congruent with the vaccine and DEI policy established by the Department of Defense (DOD). The agency decreed rigid COVID-19 vaccine mandates enforced by punishment, instigated quotas, and conferred legitimacy on the drag queen movement by sponsoring events with children. The AFA is not an innocent bystander in this drama. Its administration has independently embraced these narratives and is responsible for promoting policies meant to transform an inherently patriotic and non-political student body into one committed to social activism.

In keeping with Marcuse’s tactics of marching through the institutions, the transformation of the AFA developed insidiously as activists infiltrated and corrupted its foundational principles. Undermining respect for the Honor Code, lessening academic rigor, reducing the intensity of the cadet experience as evidenced by low attrition rates, appointing activist superintendents, deans, and commandants, introducing a pervasive DEI culture, co-opting graduate associations to support radical programs sponsored by the administration rather than abiding by the wishes of the alumni, and the penchant of general officers to accept the changes as a fait accompli all contributed to the academy’s demise.

The Cadet Honor Code—” We will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.”—separates the AFA from other institutions of higher learning and forms the bedrock of a cadet’s ethical conduct. Adhering to its demands is challenging but attainable, for its rewards span a lifetime. The code’s enforcement has been fraught with controversy, and multiple efforts have been made to improve it. The value of the code is indisputable, and despite its imperfections, its absence leads to chaos and begs the question of whether a viable academy can survive without it.

More than a decade ago, Dr. Frederick Malmstrom, USAFA Class of 1964, and Dr. R. David Mullin launched a thorough investigation into the deterioration of the Honor Code. The findings delivered a grave prognosis that the Academy administration sadly did not heed. Fifty years ago, respect for the Code ranged from 90-100% but plunged to 70% for the classes of 2007-2010. Between 2002 and 2011, first- and fourth-class cadets were given the Defining Issues Test, which ranks moral reasoning on a scale that ranges from “acting purely from self-interest” to “making moral decisions based on shared ideals and principles.”

An institution tasked with developing leaders of character would be expected to score well above average. Disappointingly, the test found no significant difference in the highest level of moral reasoning between Academy seniors and seniors at other colleges and universities. One in four members of the Class of 2010 regressed to lower levels of ethical decision-making while at the Academy.

From 2017-2018, six permanent professors, including a department chairman, resigned from the USAFA, all pointing to sweeping cultural changes at the institution. In an open letter, they detail the actions of the Dean of Academics, who, during their tenure, was disdainful of the Honor Code and averse to academic excellence. The dean 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.

By 2022, according to the U.S. News and World Report’s “Best College Rankings,” the AFA ranked as the 18th best liberal arts college in the United States, demonstrating the eclipse of the STEM curriculum as the institution’s primary academic priority. The transition occurred as civilian professors and instructors expanded to 42% of the faculty—many of whom trained in the DEI hotbeds of the Ivy Leagues.

High attrition rates tend to correct for errors in the admissions process and serve as a mechanism to separate cadets who have neither the ability nor inclination to withstand four years of unrelenting pressure. Low attrition rates imply that nearly all selected applicants are qualified and motivated to succeed at the AFA, particularly in an environment where the level of intensity is diminished from historical norms.

The current four-year graduation rate at the AFA is 86%, significantly exceeding my classmates’ era’s 60% graduation rate. Presently, the national average of freshmen completing the first year of college is about 70%, but 93% of fourth-class cadets complete the first year. This period in the past placed extraordinary demands on one’s mental, physical, and psychological aptitude.

In an article in the Air Force Times, newly appointed AFA Director of Admissions, Colonel Candice Pipes, called for radical changes to address perceived disparities in the Air Force. Her commentary calls for restorative justice, emphasizing identity and victimhood and correcting inequities by applying quotas. She dismisses or ignores merit, the primary predictor of success, under identity-focused psychologists, who assert that merit-based hiring is unfair. In her new role, Colonel Pipes stands as a gatekeeper. This liminal deity wields immense power to politicize the applicant selection process and mold the next Air Force officers.

In the past 15 years, activist superintendents have accelerated the academy’s metamorphosis primarily through the implementation of DEI programs that pervade every aspect of cadet life. One equated the importance of DEI with that of academics, and another claimed systemic racism existed at the academy and used it as an excuse to expedite the process, although a lawsuit by Judicial Watch revealed that the accusation was baseless.

The current superintendent is a steadfast proponent of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and denied all religious and medical exemptions, justifying the decision by using obsolete data and failing to consider the high risk-to-benefit ratio among the healthy cadet cohort. Under his leadership, cadets were required to attend briefings on the use of preferred pronouns, and he allowed the Brooke Owens Fellowship and Patty Grace Smith Fellowship to offer academic opportunities to cadets based on sex and race to the exclusion of white males. Academy officials repeatedly deny that DEI and CRT indoctrination occur at the AFA, but a Freedom of Information lawsuit tells a different story.

CRT and DEI have become normalized at the AFA. White male cadets are subjected to racial harassment by members of the faculty, and for the most part, the insults and degradation pass without notice. The experience of White Boy #2 is an exception when it was learned and publicized that his civilian economics instructor with connections to Cornell University referred to white males in her class by numbers since they “all look alike.” The same young man was ordered by his military training instructor, an Air Force colonel and former Commander of the AFA Preparatory School, to explain his white privilege.

Cadets live under a system where Diversity and Inclusion Representatives are embedded in all cadet squadrons and act as political officers. This cadre reports outside the chain of command and exerts an element of control and intimidation reminiscent of the thought police found in totalitarian governments.

Few safeguards exist to prevent ideological excesses at military academies. Politicians are unpredictable, unreliable, and, by inclination, more apt to intervene once the risk to their political careers is low, which is often too late to halt the process. The Academy Board of Visitors, whose task is to oversee institutional policies and procedures, serves by presidential appointment.

At the outset of the Biden Administration, all previous appointments were voided and replaced by those sympathetic to the prioritization of DEI within the DOD. The remaining bulwark, the Alumni’s Association of Graduates, disregarded the sentiments of the graduate community, failed to resist DEI’s inauguration at the academy, and abetted the administration’s successful attempts to install DEI into the fabric of cadet life.

The words and deeds of generals and admirals, both on active duty and retired, profoundly influence veterans and their associated organizations. Only the most prescient observer was aware of these machinations at the early stages of the military’s transformative era when neo-Marxists dabbled and garnered small victories within the military establishment. But the days of subtle subterfuge have passed, and only ennui, intellectual apathy, lack of courage, or sympathy can explain why so few flag officers openly have resisted Marxism’s clever euphemism, DEI. Now more than ever, America needs those who devoted their careers and lives to the service of their country to step up once again and fight this formidable enemy.

Despite the assault on the values that produce competent leaders, most cadets of all races and ethnicities do not agree with the inculcation of divisive ideologies at the AFA. DEI is viewed as a distraction that prioritizes behaviors that are antithetical to the tenets of military science. They decry the hypocrisy of generals who quibble and fail to tell the truth.

These young men and women revolt at the notion that they are clones who think the same way and judge others by superficial, irrelevant traits. Who should speak to them of honor and bravery at the AFA’s leadership conference— a woke airline CEO or the men and women who risked their lives quietly in service to the nation?