academic freedom at US military academies (i.e., West Point)

At US military academies (i.e., West Point, US Air Force Academy,) do cadets have a lot less academic freedom than undergraduate students at a civilian college?

If a cadet took the side of MacArthur in his insubordination against Truman, or criticized the current POTUS, or opposed certain US strategies/doctrine, would he/she face career consequences?

Under what situations? I think the big problem would be when wearing a military uniform and talking on a public venue (a TV show…). I think in the classroom there would be a lot of discussion of alternative military strategies and privately the majority of the military is anti-Obama anyway.

But these are just my guesses.

Why do you say so? Got a cite?

The military is by and large mostly conservative/Republican, no?

The situation I was envisioning was writing an academic paper or thesis project.

Here’s a cite

Here’s another

A different reason

One from earlier this year

And someone who didn’t like Bush, either

There was a thread in which we discussed the percentage of the military who are Democrats and who are Republicans. A link was given to a website which said that the enlisted men are about half Democrats and half Republicans. It also said that officers are distinctly more Republicans than Democrats. I can’t find that thread quickly. Here’s a thread from 2008 in which I mention (in post #31) the previous thread where someone gave a link to that website, although I don’t give a link to that previous thread:

OK fine but let’s NOT get hung up on the ideological leanings of the members of the cadet corps or of the command – the question is about academic liberty in the classwork and it would work both ways (cadet/midshipman arguing that prohibition of to gay/trans members was wrong and unjustified all along, and those who favored it acted out of ignorance, in a supposedly conservative-dominated service).

Of course a sworn member of the military (which the cadets and midshipmen are) is forbidded from trash-talking the CinC or any part of the Chain of Command. But that’s not the same as a critical academic work. There is (a) taking a critical position about a command decision and being willing and able to step forward to defend that critique with supporting facts and reasoning in a debate (NOT when taking orders in the middle of battle, though); and then OTOH there is (b) disparaging the commander, including the CinC, and deprecating the chain of command. They are not the same and in the military the first is generally encouraged, the second is not.

There is saying “My conclusion from this research is that these proposals as to strategy would have resulted in a position of strength, and should be listened to and adopted by the policymakers in lieu of the current doctrine which will lead to further deterioration” or saying "In this paper I present support for the position that MacArthur’s actions and expressions did not rise to the level of meriting such sanctions and Truman’s decision was mistaken" … and then there is saying *“Someone must be getting a beach home paid for by the prime contractor for this useless POS weapons system” *or “Who the **** is some elected or appointed civilian political official to tell an experienced and decorated professional commander what to do.”

Four of those cites go back to the same data: a Military Times survey, not a poll, that asked readers to respond on their own initiative.

It’s an indisputable fact that officers are heavily Republican, and a 15% approval rate for Obama seems probably on the low end of plausible. To pull numbers out of thin air, I wouldn’t be surprised with a 20-25% approval rating for Obama among officers.

But enlisted members are a different story. About 20% of enlisted troops are African American. In general, enlisted may tilt a little Republican, but it’s not anything like the officer corps.

But seriously, that Military Times survey is about as reliable as an online poll from the American Legion or something.

Among the enlisted, the numbers could change in a conscripted army.

When I was in college, the ROTC cadets were not allowed to discuss politics while wearing uniform. Whether that applies when everybody is wearing the same uniform, I don’t know.

The curriculum at the academies is heavily slanted toward engineering, so politics would not come up as often as it would at a liberal arts college where the professors spent their entire careers fantasizing about being at Berkeley in the 60s. :slight_smile: One of the nice things about engineering is that, as long as the math adds up, and the widget does what it is supposed to do, it doesn’t matter what your professor thinks of your politics. I felt a lot more free when I was an engineering major, than when I switched to a liberal arts program.

Officers training at Sandhurst (UK West Point) are encouraged to argue a case, regardless of the political slant. The view is that the ability to formulate an argument and set out a point of view, even if it is unpopular, is an essential attribute for an officer.

An individual’s political views are their own. It would only be a problem if they tried to proselytise. I imagine that some of them would even be republicans (in the British sense), but since they have to swear allegiance to the Queen, that would be a problem for them to deal with:

I have some familiarity with National Defense University (the military’s graduate school) through a family member, but I expect that all of the service academies may be similar. As a formal matter, NDU is subject to accreditation by a regional accreditor and program reviews by the U.S. Department of Education on the same terms as a civilian institution. One of the typical elements of review is commitment to academic freedom, and it has always passed, to my knowledge.

There was a controversy a few years ago when a new commandant sought to make some major changes and the faculty and others fought him on the grounds that it was an infringement of academic freedom. I forget the details, but I think it’s significant that that was the chosen grounds for opposition. And that commandant is long gone; senior leadership there turns over quickly.

That said, there is no tenure, and I think there is less expectation to publish.

As for the students, I have never heard of direct command influence over the direction of one’s studies, but I can’t say that it never happens. NDU students are generally senior officers committed to a military career, though, so I suspect that there is naturally a fair amount of alignment between the student’s thinking and that of the institution, at least as to big-picture issues. There is probably also some level of careerist judgment that leads one to balance the benefit from being a standout against the possible awkwardness of challenging one’s future employers too severely. My guess would be that some similar calculation often goes on among students at civilian institutions as well, though.

Thanks for the responses everyone.
Incidentally, within the military, is it pretty much anathema to support or defend MacArthur’s actions against Truman, or to defend any military personnel against POTUS/civilian leadership? I understand that “civilian leadership over the military” is taken extremely seriously.

From the perspective of an NCO in an engineering squadron, I can’t say the topic of MacArthur vs Truman comes up very often in conversation. Maybe the Aggies vs the Longhorns (Saw 'em off!).

That said, I don’t think I’ve actually been party to very many national politics discussions in the military. Sometimes folks will mention that they’re supporting Trump or think that he’s a damned fool while we’re in the chow hall watching TV, but that’s as deep as the discussion goes until someone mentions their planned workout later in the day or whatever job we’ve got to work on.

I can’t speak to how folks in other types of units or branches talk (fighter squadron, Security Forces squadron, Marine infantry, Army artillery, a Navy galley, etc.). For that matter, it might just be how folks talk about me (I tend to swing rather towards the left), so for all I know, folks are backing off the topic around me to avoid picking a fight at work.

For me, when I’m at work, I tend not to discuss politics or religion in any meaningful way because of how strongly folks feel about it and how profoundly unrelated to our day to day work it tends to be.

That said, I’ve never been to any of the military academies, and my military-specific education is limited to some enlisted and NCO Professional Military Education, where we were assured of our rights to academic freedom inside the classroom and how we shouldn’t take anything said in the classroom environment outside of it. But honestly, politics and religion just didn’t have much chance to come up except for a brief section on Religious Freedom.

The service academies are undergraduate schools where the focus is on making Lieutenants (Ensigns). There are a lot fewer degree majors than most Universities. Probably a lot less time to argue the finer points of policy while getting an Engineering degree. There are some majors like Defense and Strategic Studies and International Relations where such discussions have to be part of the curriculum. I’ve worked with quite a few ring knockers. I’ve never heard of anyone being punished for being outspoken in class. For example H.R. McMaster came out of Desert Storm as probably the biggest war hero. His later public criticism of policy has been rumored to be why he was initially passed over for his first star. He is doing just fine now with 3 stars and in a position to shape the future of the Army. At one point he was an instructor at West Point and he wrote a book called Dereliction of Duty which tears apart the Johnson administration and the Joint Chiefs of the time.

I have a friend who was a recent graduate of the Army War College. I’ll ask him about academic freedom there. I suspect it is not a problem since they have to write a thesis and out of the box thinking is encouraged.

I was commissioned through ROTC not USMA. Many of the concepts we associate with academic freedom were deeply ingrained in both pre-commissioning, later required Officer Education, unit level leader development programs, and day to day business. There’s more limit on presenting ideas when in uniform or when representing the military. In house it’s more a feature than a bug though.

The Army, by doctrine, doesn’t want mindless, order following automatons. Since AirLand Battle doctrine was published in 1982 we’ve been actively pursuing a mission-oriented concept for controlling operations (as opposed to directive control). The latest packaging of the old Prussian style is called “Mission Command.” It hasn’t always overcome all the directive control impulses (and that came up in professional journals during my career, although more pre-9/11) but it’s doctrine. That doctrine tends to have the most effect in the formal training institutions like USMA.

just a couple quotes from one of our core doctrinal publications, ADP 6-0 Mission Command, are below. The entire manual is 12 pages to get a broader overview.

Does any of that sound like the kind of leader you could develop in an academic classroom that didn’t encourage free thought and discussion? IMO if the USMA is not encouraging future officers to think critically, argue persuasively, and make their own decisions within the academic portions of the curriculum they are failing and hurting the Army.

While I don’t recall the Truman/Macarthur issue coming up in training, I did have The Revolt of the Generals against Cheney with regard to the conduct of operations in Iraw come up in the officer education system. We had assigned reading. The required readings appeared to all be chosen carefully since they all disagreed with each other. The schoolhouse took no formal position as to the “right” resolution of the ethical dilemma was.

A Bright Shining Lie is assigned reading, I seem to remember from a list posted in a library at a military base.

I just found this order from General Mattis, our-not-yet-SecDef, when he was commander at CentCom; I didn’t find the exact year.

Extraordinarily, many of these books were mandatory for all active-duty Marines, by rank, not just brainy West Point types. Clearly a lot of academic free-thought is “encouraged.”
**The Central Command Reading List
Commander, United States Marine Corps Forces, Central Command Reading List

Commander’s Intent: The Global War on Terrorism is a long war, and as such we need to continue our preparation to be engaged in all aspects of this war. For our current fights the MARCENT Reading List provides a collection of readings to be read dependent upon your grade and how long you have before deploying. Whether part of a unit or an individual augment, my intent is to prepare you for the operational, tactical, cultural and environmental factors affecting your specific fight. This reading list is not all inclusive and your local command may require you to accomplish other tasks in preparation for deployment as well. All of these actions will ensure we send educated, well-trained and properly prepared Marines into the fight. Turn-to, get it done, you and your Marines will be better for your efforts.

LtGen James N. Mattis

Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command

Section I is a list of articles, books and publications that are required reading for all hands to prepare for your upcoming deployment to the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility (AOR).

Section II is recommended reading separated into specific regions within the AOR. Applicable ranks are assigned and each item is marked by the estimate amount of time that the item can be completed prior to deployment. The time allotted permits prioritization of the reading requirements should a Marine receive late notification for deployment.

Looking at that list, I’ve read “One Bullet Away” by Nathaniel Fick, and I can’t recommend it enough. If you enjoyed “Generation Kill”, this is pretty much a mandatory companion to that book, given that Fick lead the platoon that Evan Wright was embedded with. They write about many of the same events, from very different perspectives (civilian outsider vs Marine officer), and Fick spends a bit of time explaining how everybody will remember the same events very differently, to include very big details.