“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Brandeis, L.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote in his 1913 article “What Publicity Can Do” that “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” discussed here and often cited by proponents of transparency in government. He was referring, apparently, to “the wickedness of people shielding wrongdoers & passing them off (or at least allowing them to pass themselves off) as honest men.” He then reportedly wrote, “If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.” Id.
UsmaData thanks USMA attorneys for confirming what was implied by a change in USMA‘s Office of Institutional Research (OIR) website after usmaData pointed out an embarrassing set of circumstances: They’re monitoring us (Good!). We explore the implications of this new bit of information.
OIR’s Missing Page
We were hoping for an explanation for why USMA OIR changed their webpage to delete the reference to graduate retention data, in any level of detail, including the level of detail – by race – that USMA uses when publishing admissions data, such as this:
It was indeed embarrassing for OIR to implicitly admit the existence of the data and at the same time have their webpage claim the data are not available. Obviously, USMA had the data, as the page title “Graduation, Commissioning, and Retention Rates” implies, despite OIR’s express claim that the data were unavailable. Apart from whether their claim of unavailability was untrue or just quibbling, the larger issue is why, before they were called out, did they have the page, then, after they were called out, delete it? What is the real explanation? What are the implications?
So, we first ask: Why does USMA no longer publish graduation, commissioning and retention rate statistics similar to the manner and level of detail in which it readily publishes admissions statistics (which include racial categories) and briefs the Board of Visitors? Relatedly, why did USMA’s G5 Office of Institutional Research delete from its website both the listed category for “Graduation, Commissioning and Retention rates” and the separate page devoted to that subject?
To review, the USMA OIR had such a category on its webpage when in October 2021 usmaData published this article: USMA Graduation Data [link]. The article contains a screen shot of USMA’s OIR webpage, showing a category for “Graduation, Commissioning and Retention Rates.” That screenshot shows that OIR claimed the specified data were unavailable. That page, and the category, have since been deleted from the G5 page (https://www.westpoint.edu/about/west-point-staff/g5/institutional-research , accessed 4/21/22).
Were the data truly “not available” in October 2021 as OIR claimed, or were they just not published there? More importantly, why are the data not published so that the public can access information that may be relevant to assessing the effectiveness (for the Army) of USMA’s use of racial preferences in its admissions process? What was the rationale for having the category, and separate page, where presumably the data were once published, but which rationale apparently no longer applies?
Assume the data were to show that, as a group, African American cadets (which we know include a significant number of “diversity” admissions) graduate with comparable performance scores, branch into the combat arms, and/or stay in the Army beyond their initial commitment, at rates comparable to other categories of graduates. Under that set of circumstances, would USMA still claim such data to be “not available” and not publish it? Or, would it then become “available”?
Is this lack of disclosure to graduates and the public consistent with notions of transparency and full disclosure? Does it serve to conceal something, if so what, and why?
Black Branching and Army Representation
We have CQPA (cadet performance) data by race in our On Diversity As Strength post. We refine it further here to show CQPAs by race for graduated cadets only (classes 2010-2017):
The CQPA data show that Black cadets graduate, on average, with the lowest performance scores relative to other categories of graduates (similar to their lower average SAT scores and WCS, which we and others have found predictive of CQPA and graduation rates). This has occurred concurrently with USMA Admissions intentionally passing over better qualified candidates who on average had higher SAT and WCS [link] but who had the wrong skin color.
Unfortunately, West Point does not publish data indicating branching statistics of each graduating class. Nor does it now publish retention data that would indicate the numbers of graduates who stay in the Army beyond their initial period of obligated service.
Fortunately, though providing only a partial answer to the question, our USMA-sourced data files include the field “basic_br_cd”, which gives the branches assigned to cadets. We classify these codes into Combat and Non-Combat arms, note that the Branch Details are not indicated in the branch codes (we checked a couple known profiles to verify this), and exclude cadets who had no branch codes (possibly due to disciplinary or turnback status or other reasons). The data are broken down by racial category.
This indicates that Blacks do indeed branch into combat arms at nearly the lowest rates (60%) of any group and a full 14% below the highest group, Whites (74%). (We do have an unverified, anecdotal report that the Class of 2022 President branched Signal Corps with a two-year detail in Infantry; he’s only one graduate, so the report, if true, would not be evidence of a trend, though he is the class leader. We wish him well.)
There have been anecdotal reports by retired Army officers who, when on active duty were in a position to know, that disproportionately low numbers of Blacks (compared to all graduating cadets) branch into the combat arms and that such is a perennial problem that has had the attention of those responsible. A solution has not yet been found, and USMA’s loading each class with about 15% Blacks (their typical class composition goal for Blacks, shown here as >14% in later classes) apparently has not solved this problem. These anecdotal reports appear to be consistent with, indeed corroborated by, the lower combat arms branching rates for Blacks in our USMA-sourced data, shown above.
There is some macro statistical corroboration, found in DA’s report of Army Demographics as of 9/30/20, via HQ DA, G-1. This graphic reports % of women and minorities in Army and at USMA. (USMA= 24% female and 36% racial/ethnic minorities; Total Army: 18% female and 39% minorities). Active-duty Army: 42% racial/ethnic minorities (Black 21% (Officer-11%, Enlisted 23%)).
On the above site, the relevant slide is titled “Officer & Warrant Officer Branch and Race/Ethnicity” (second page, middle).
We see Black officers are shown to have the following participation percentages by branch category: Operations- 26% Operations Support-17% Force Sustainment-36%, et al. Compare those percentages to Whites: Operations – 46% Operations Support-16% Force Sustainment-15%, et al. In other words, 46% of White officers are in operations branches (combat arms), while only 26% of Black officers are in operations branches. Also, only 15% of White officers are in Force Sustainment branches (non-combat arms) compared to 36% of Black officers. The explanation for this significant (46% White vs 26% Black) disparity, and its implications, are important to understand and appreciate. We suspect the Army has examined it and knows, and we hope what the Army knows will be shared with the public sooner rather than later. But, while very important, that is not our point here.
General Officers, Combat Arms, and Diversity
Most General Officer (GO) promotions and senior command positions go to combat arms officers. That, at least, used to be the case. The only guidance publicly stated recently (and repetitively) is from the SECDEF that the “leadership” will henceforth “look like what’s in the ranks,” quoted here. He’s obviously not referring to clothing, since they already wear the same uniform. Clearly, he is referring to skin color, in a not very veiled way. (Parenthetically, why not just use the words that clearly describe the concept? Would someone object to such as implying the use of unlawful racial preferences in promotions and assignments? (See section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.))
We suspect, based on the above statistics and anecdotal reports, that underrepresentation of Black officers in the combat arms is regarded at DA as a vexing problem that, among other things, works against achieving the SECDEF’s announced goal of something closer to racial demographic parity between the officer ranks and the enlisted ranks. Afterall, underlying DA’s use of racial preferences in accessions is the Army’s noteworthy claim that a “demographically diverse leadership is critical for mission effectiveness and is essential to national security,” here. (Really!)
The implicit rationale underlying such a claim and DA/USMA’s accession policies’ including using racial preferences is that (somehow) troops respond more effectively when they see leaders of color standing in front of them. Whether one agrees with such reasoning (and whether the implicit cultural change is consistent with fielding a maximally effective military force) is a profoundly important topic for another discussion. But is USMA commissioning graduates of color into the combat arms at the same proportional rate that it is putting White graduates into the combat arms? The data USMA provided shows a significant (14 percentage points on an absolute basis) shortfall, so the answer is an unequivocal “No.” In other words, are racial preferences in admissions serving the avowed goal (legitimate or not) of putting more leaders of color in front of the troops? Again, the answer, apparently, is “No.”
This is a noteworthy finding. USMA unarguably compromises admissions standards to meet “African American class composition goals” ostensibly to increase the number of Black officers to meet the Army’s supposed “essential to national security” claim. Yet, Black graduates, as a group, branch into the combat arms (where the bulk of the troops are) at rates significantly lower than the category of graduates – Whites – whose numbers are intentionally, and significantly, reduced by USMA Admissions’ use of racial preferences. Amplifying the inefficiency of such a strategy is that Blacks graduate at lower rates than Whites and with lower average (as a group) performance scores (as shown by their lower average CQPA).
USMA’s use of racial preferences, therefore, is not achieving its avowed strategic justification – putting a high percentage of Black officers in the combat arms branches. Moreover, as we have shown, the strategy incurs greater direct cost (resources spent for recruiting and getting marginally qualified cadets to graduation), greater opportunity cost (fewer graduates due to higher attrition rates for Black cadets), and yields graduates having, on average, lower performance scores for their four years of education and training.
We leave for later discussion the Army’s “national security imperative” justification for, and, separately, the legality of, its using a racial preferences USMA admissions strategy. For now, however, the claim that our military must use racial preferences in officer accessions in order to be able to defend the country sounds contrived, at best. UsmaData would welcome empirical evidence supportive of that conclusion.
We thus ask: Why is information–Graduation, Commissioning and Retention Rates data – once made public and that would bear directly on evaluating the efficacy of DA and USMA’s questionable policy to use “class composition goals” for African Americans in admissions, and downward adjustment of admissions standards to meet those goals, and such policies’ rationale, withheld from the public?
The lower percentage (60%) of Black graduates branching into combat arms (vs Whites at 74%) (substantial in absolute terms) is consistent with the DA combat arms branch numbers disparity between those two groups (26% of Black officers vs. 46% of White officers). The Army’s dubiously premised program of using racial preferences to achieve a claimed “national security” imperative of something closer to racial demographic parity between the officer corps vs. the enlisted ranks isn’t achieving racial parity. USMA’s graduate branching data we obtained provides insight as to why: Black officers choose not to serve in the combat arms in nearly the same percentages as do White officers.
The implications are obvious. The (costly and already inefficient) strategy’s goal – increasing the numbers of Black officers where the troops are – is not well served by the lower combat arms branching rates of Black graduates.
USMA OIR’s not publishing this branching data could have only one motive: a desire to avoid the public’s and graduates’ knowing about it, effectively, a desire to avoid scrutiny and accountability. What other purpose would be served by withholding this data from the public and graduates? Moreover, what purpose is served by deleting the category and webpage altogether from the OIR website, so as to conceal the very existence of the data?
One can’t help but also wonder, what would officer retention data (which UsmaData does not have) show? OIR is no longer publishing it, at all. We suspect USMA has the data but chooses not to publish it, certainly not in the level of detail that would facilitate evaluation of whether there is disproportionately low retention of Black graduates after their initial period of obligated service is completed. If there were such a disparity, that would contribute to what DA claims is a threat to national security – an insufficient number of Black officers.
Would such a circumstance make it more difficult to justify continued use of already inefficient and costly racial preferences in officer accessions? Why would USMA and DA want graduates and the public to not have access to this information? Is there a desire to shield from public view the weaknesses of DA’s dubiously premised officer accessions strategy, specifically the failure of racial preferences over a period of years to meet its avowed “critical officer diversity” objective, despite significant direct and opportunity cost?
We now know that USMA and/or DA are monitoring our posts. We thus have an explanation for why, after the claimed “unavailability” of Graduation, Commissioning and Retention Rates data was called out in our 2021 usmaData article, USMA OIR changed their webpage to delete the category altogether. USMA now is withholding such information from the public and concealing evidence (the past existence of the Graduation, Commissioning and Retention Rates webpage) of the existence of such information by deleting the relevant page from their website.
The American people, who pay for USMA’s operation, are owed access to this information for the reasons explained above. But the data are being withheld and their existence concealed, apparently to conceal what we suspect is failure to fulfill the rationale for admissions policies that are themselves questionable (and of dubious legality) and that, as we have demonstrated, are poorly serving the Nation.
Simple transparency is not hard. But it can be revealing. Those responsible for policy formulation, and for execution, cannot be held accountable without the public’s having the information necessary to evaluate those policies, their implementation, and the results.
In the spirit of transparency and to facilitate USMA’s honoring its obligation to the public (and for the sake of our national security), we respectfully call for more “sunlight.” These acts of concealment arguably are typical of what Brandeis’ characterized as “wickedness.” They have the appearance of being the acts of someone other than “honest men.” The Country urgently needs and deserves better.
As always, factual corrections and thoughtful criticism are welcome.