Frank Hunt (1ST CO) forwarded to me the following observations and comments from Admiral Kirk Donald, USNA ‘75, about the Naval Academy. Admiral Kirk was recently honored as a Distinguished Graduate and following the DGA ceremony in Annapolis, he received briefings from Academy leadership and the Alumni Association. The Admiral has provided his notes and observations from those briefings, and he has given his permission to share this with others. At the end of his notes is a link to the Alumni Association and Foundation slides briefed to the Distinguished Graduates. These briefing slides are worth a look and in them you will find the latest information and drawings of the Alumni Center for which our class is raising funds as part of our 50th Class gift.
ADM Kirk Donald notes:
I attended a presentation by Byron Marchant, President and CEO of the Alumni Association, and the Superintendent last week. Below are some of the slides they used to talk about what is going on in the AA and at the Academy. Additionally, during the course of the DGA festivities, we had the opportunity to speak with quite a few mids, staff, and faculty. It was a great few days and I came away from it very proud of the Academy and all they and the Alumni Association are doing to make it better. I thought I would pass on a few observations.
The place is energized. While I was somewhat following things that were happening at USNA during the pandemic, I did not realize how challenging last year was for everyone and especially the mids. No summer cruises. A full academic summer school semester. They spent most of the year in lockdown doing virtual learning and getting very little in person engagement. It definitely took a toll on morale as the Supe explained to us. In fact, a pretty negative “go it alone” culture developed and festered, and it led to some bad behavior. It appears it was a contributing factor to the Youngster physics exam cheating scandal that was recently in the papers. More on that later. To address the culture issue, among other things, they “shotgunned” (the mid’s term) the 2/c and 3/c, meaning they broke up the companies and redistributed the mids among the 30 companies in the name of a “fresh start”. As you can imagine, that was not a popular move among the mids. But after hearing the Supe’s explanation of why they did it and then hearing from some of the mids that even they thought the move was necessary, I get it. Now that the Brigade has reformed with relatively minimal COVID restrictions, the whole place feels like it has a twinkle in the eye and a spring in the step. Hopefully they can stay out of more significant COVID restrictions.
- The Supe discussed the cheating issue. ~100 Youngsters cheated on a virtual Physics I final exam. Half of the class had taken the course in the summer semester; half in the fall. Exam was in December. Was discovered when a mid told the staff about it. Investigation…. 18 mids were dismissed (they both cheated on the exam and then lied about it to the investigators). The rest were put into a remediation program. I think there is still one case that is not resolved. You may have been following this case and there has been alumni pushback on the “remediation” concept (“Back in my day we would have just kicked their butts out…..!”). This is an issue near and dear to my heart as I dealt with integrity issues in the training pipeline during my time at Naval Reactors. I came to realize that most kids coming into the Navy, even college graduates, have a minimal, if any, moral and ethical foundation that you and I would recognize. The statistics are stunning when national surveys report high school and college students (not USNA) report an +80% rate of cheating. I saw my choice as being either continue kicking out sailors who volunteered to serve their country, who were faced with a rigorous academic environment for which they are not fully prepared, and then make a mistake, or try to do the ethics and integrity training and education their “mamas and daddies” should have done. We did the latter and it looked a lot like what they are trying to do at USNA. Here is a summary of the remediation program:
- The mids are restricted (Class A style) until next spring
- They are assigned a remediation officer (O-5/0-6 USNA staffer)
- Meet weekly with remediation officer
- Remediation officer assigns reading, writing and discussion projects that are graded
- Examinations that must be passed
- I spoke at length with one of the remediation officers (female Marine colonel who clearly means business!). She has been a remediation officer for several years and is passionate about her work. Her rate of successful remediation completion: 50%! The program is comprehensive and has teeth.
- No second chances
The Supe also mentioned that he felt the Academy bears some responsibility for the problem in that they weren’t fully aware of the stress the pandemic and associated mitigations were putting on the Brigade and didn’t fully account for the lack of face to face engagement and teaching on important issues like integrity, responsibility and accountability. They are addressing those issues in the event they have to revert if COVID rates dictate.
Bottom line: While I don’t like to see cheating at our USNA and absolutely believe in individual responsibility for actions, I believe they are taking the right approach.
- You may have also heard that some alumni are upset about the supposed teaching of Critical Race Theory at USNA. The Supe was animated about this topic, as he has been hearing a lot from the alumni. His position is that they are not teaching CRT as a doctrine. They are trying to expose the mids to a full range of perspectives on diversity, inclusion and equity in readings and structured discussions. The goal is to give the mids an understanding of the shared experience and perceptions of all midshipmen and sailors and the ability to think critically with a firm understanding of credible scholarship on the topics. My sense is they still have work to do on how best to do this and the curriculum will evolve, but I firmly believe they are on the right track for the right reasons. I was able to ask a few mids about the program and they were pretty positive about it. As an aside, I was struck by the diversity of the Brigade and, in particular, how many women were in leadership positions. I talked with a number of them and they are really sharp. The Brigade Commander (Midn Booker) is a young black man, and if we all live long enough, we will likely be working for him. All impressive!!
The next thing I want to mention is the work of the Alumni Association and the Foundation. This is not a “paid political announcement”, but rather my perspective based on what I saw and heard this past week. The Alumni Association and the Foundation are helping significantly in all of the above issues, as well as working many projects to achieve the “Margin to Excellence”. Government funding of USNA, as important as it is, only covers the basics of staff, faculty and physical plant, and if that were all the resources available, USNA would be pretty much average. The efforts of the AA and the Foundation are targeted to make up the difference between average and excellent. A recent example of this is Hopper Hall, the new academic building for the cyber/computer disciplines. The building was constructed and minimally outfitted using government money. The AA/Foundation funded the world class outfitting, lab equipment, etc. It is flat out impressive. I spent some time with the leadership of both organizations and came away impressed with the commitment, the strategic vision and operational plan, the efficiency of execution and the leadership. They seem to be targeting the right things (projects directly linked to the mission of the Academy) and driving performance to efficiently achieve their goals. Over the years, I have donated to the AA and plan to continue because I think they are making good use of my money. Looking at the recommendations from our Class leadership for our Class Gift in honor of our 50th reunion, I believe they are all excellent investments for the betterment of USNA, that the money will be well spent, and I intend to support them as best as I can. If you are so inclined, I think your donation will be sincerely appreciated and well spent.
There is a lot more I could cover, but this email is already too long. I am happy to discuss further if anyone desires. I had a chance to deliver some remarks at the Distinguished Graduate Award ceremony. One of the things I tried to get across to the Brigade (most were there and seemingly awake!) was the significance of the bond among classmates, my appreciation for that bond, and my pride in being one of the Flower Children and all that implies. I hope their experience is similar. Go Navy, Beat Army.
The link below is the Alumni Association and Foundation slides briefed to Admiral Donald.
President, USNA Class of 1978