My oldest son is a 3rd class (2nd year) midshipman at the United Stated Naval Academy. I know first hand the demands - physical, academic, and mental - that these young men and women voluntarily take upon themselves the minute they walk in the door. So, you can only imagine how irritated I was when I read this article in today's Washington Post newspaper, "Why We Should Get Rid of West Point". Mind you, the author is not just referring to West Point, but all the service academies.
Craig Mullaney, the author of The Unforgiving Minute, was asked to respond to this opinion piece about shutting down the service academies. He had only 200 words, so he couldn't say all he wanted, but here is what he said:
"Oscar Wilde defined a cynic as the man who knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.
In Tom Ricks’ article, he rightly points out that among the multiple commissioning routes — service academies, ROTC, and Officer Candidate School — the service academies are the most expensive. As a West Point ’00 graduate, I had the fortune of being an exchange stud ent at the Air Force Academy, a graduate student at Oxford University, and finally a history instructor at the Naval Academy for three long winless years (combined football score: 106-40). I served in combat in Afghanistan with fantastic officers from every commissioning source.
The taxpayer should rightly ask not just the cost of the service academies, but also the value. What does America get for the $202,000 it pays to produce each academy graduate?
- A first-rate undergraduate education that emphasizes instruction rather than research. The academies afford students a broad curriculum in science and engineering, humanities, and the social sciences. West Point is routinely ranked among the top 10 universities in the country for no accident — the instructors have a level of professional commitment to their charges that few civilian institutions can replicate. The number of Ph.Ds in the faculty is no proxy for the quality of their instruction. The average instructor at West Point taught me more than the best Oxford dons.
- A four-year leadership laboratory. Leaders are trained, not born. Every semester and every summer cadets are put in positions of leadership of their peers or subordinates. You cannot cram for the leadership “exam” you get the first time you step in front of a platoon. Surrounded by hand-picked role models who’ve succeeded in the Army, cadets learn from their example and have the opportunity to practice before it counts.
I'd argue that what's unique, and what's worth preserving, is the combination of intellectual preparation, character development, and leadership training that the service academies provide."
Update 4/20/09: Another good response here.