In July 1948, as one of the first in a long series of acts and bills over the next 30 years that eliminated legal segregation against minorities, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, ordering integration of the armed forces.
Yesterday, in a nation with a military that has enlisted soldier and officer minority rates of 40 and 19 percent, respectively, 29 former top-ranking military officers filed a brief supporting the University’s two pending U.S. Supreme Court lawsuits. The University will defend its race-conscious admissions policies before the court April 1.
“The military has made substantial progress towards its goal of a fully integrated, highly qualified officer corps,” the briefs says. “It cannot maintain the diversity it has achieved or make further progress unless it retains its ability to recruit and educate a diverse officer corps.”
Both military service academies and ROTC scholarship programs consider race in selecting applicants.
“Currently no alternative means to field a fully qualified, diverse officer corps exists,” the brief says.
The three major military academies in the United States – the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy – all use race as one of many factors in admissions.
Since its inception in 1802, West Point has enrolled cadets from every state in the nation and works hard to make sure cadets come from a wide variety of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, said Lt. James Whaley, director of public affairs at West Point.
The armed forces draw about 25 percent of their officer corps from the service academies. Supporters of the brief and legal experts said a diverse officer corps is essential for powerful armed forces. During the 1960s, there was widespread discrimination in the armed forces due to the large discrepancy of white officers and minority soldiers.
“It’s very important for us to have future officers that are going to be representative of the army they lead and the nation that they are expected to defend,” Whaley said. “It’s important for us not to appear elitist.”
“It will be hard for officers to maintain the respect of their troops if you have an increasingly white officer corps to command an increasingly diverse soldier corps,” Stanford Law School Prof. Pam Karlan said.
There is concern that if the court completely repeals Bakke v. University of California Regents, the military will lose its diversity. But like many other public and private universities, the three military academies also use outreach methods to encourage minority enrollment. There are about 200 preparatory schools in the United States for high school graduates who have the potential and leadership skills for acceptance into the academy but might need another year of academic enrichment for preparation into the schools.
Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman, former superintendent of West Point, said these preparatory academies are open to all races, but that 30 to 40 percent of their students are minorities.
“They are a tremendous source for minority students,” Christman said. “If we find that the Michigan case is overturned, we’re going to have to rely even more on those.”
But Karlan said overturning Bakke will force the service academies to give up some factor in their admissions system. The schools could either ignore race, producing a dominantly white student body, or hold a lottery for all qualified candidates, creating a racially balanced student pool. But a lottery system might make it impossible for the academies to have students from all 50 states, or students with solid leadership skills, she said.