On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)
Military leader

Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)

Colonel Mike Haith (U.S. Army, Retired) currently works for the Army at Ft. Monroe as a Human Dimension Integrator.

Setting the Standard

Periodically, the United States Military Academy is the subject of these criticisms and recommendations, framed much as Mr. Ricks has argued but with a great deal more research than the anecdotal evidence he cites.

The value of the service academies goes well beyond the mere economics of cost-benefit ratios. To cite the history of West Point's contribution to the nation is beyond the scope and available space of this response, and I'm certain Mr. Ricks might even agree with the importance of those past contributions. His argument is not about the past but about the present and future.

His argument about the "community college" quality of the education at West Point reveals how ill-informed he is about the service academies and specifically West Point, the subject of his headline. The inaccuracies of this point call into serious question not only the other points in his article but leads me to doubt the rigor he employs in his analysis of the Iraq War in his last two book Fiasco and The Gamble, both of which I have read and enjoyed.

The academic standing and reputation of the United States Military Academy -- the service academy I am most familiar with as a graduate (1975) and former instructor and the father of two graduates (2003 and 2005) -- needs no elaboration from me, as its academic curriculum, record of accomplishments and acclaim from numerous sources is well know by many, except perhaps for Mr. Ricks:

Three highly respected sources -- Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, and StateUniversity.com -- rank West Point in the top 10 of all 4,000 colleges and universities in the nation: Forbes.com ranked West Point sixth-best college or university in America, while U.S. News and World Report rated West Point the "Top Public Liberal Arts College" with the fifth-best "Undergraduate Engineering Program." Additionally, West Point ranks fourth in the number of Rhodes Scholarships awarded.

But all of this merely "academic." The real value of the academies must be measured in the performance of its graduates. It is in their performance and contributions to nation which the true gauge of their value.

Here, again, I must rely mainly on the my knowledge of the Army. A superficial count of the number of senior officers (generals) reveals that West Point is represented at a rate higher than the percentage of graduates it commissions into the Army every year. But any argument based on sheer numbers is superficial at best. Such arguments fail to capture the complementary nature of the three Army pre-commissioning sources: West Point, ROTC, and Officer Candidate School (OCS). We continue to need all three. They each produce great (and admittedly sometimes not so great) officers dedicated to serving the nation. Evidence of this service is demonstrated daily in both military and civilian settings. Their pre-commissioning experiences blend to make it the finest officer corps the world has ever seen, bar none.

But to focus on the specific contributions of West Point graduates, it was perhaps captured best by the words of a distinguished ROTC graduate, Colin Powell, in his remarks in accepting the annual Sylvanus Thayer Award presented by West Point's Association of Graduate:

My professor of Military Science and Tactics at the City College of New York, and a man who was my mentor, was Colonel Harold C. Brookhart, Class of 1934, West Point. A few weeks before graduation and commissioning, Colonel Brookhart sent me up to West Point to spend a few days here. His son, Dan Brookhart, was being commissioned in the class of 1958; and Colonel Brookhart wanted me to get to know Dan. He also wanted me to meet some of the other officers I would be serving with in the course of my career whom I might be competing with. But he had a more profound purpose in mind. He wanted me to visit, if only for a few days, the wellspring of my chosen profession -- the place where the professional standards are set, the place that defines the military culture, the place that nurtures the values and virtues of Army service and passes them on from generation to generation. Colonel Brookhart wanted to make sure that as his mentee, as his kind of pride and joy at CCNY, I would at least be touched by the spirit of West Point as I went out into the world to begin my Army career.

We need our academies today and in the future. They, along with their ROTC and OCS comrades, serve a higher cause: the defense of our liberties and to criticize them diminishes the whole because they are so intricately intertwined in leading today's young men and women in one of the most difficult periods in our history. I hope Mr. Ricks will reconsider his remarks, or a least take the effort o become better informed before offering criticism based on such shallow analysis.

By Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)

 |  April 20, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
Category:  Teaching Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Having Leadership vs. True Leader | Next: Teaching "Altruistic Suicide"

Comments

Please report offensive comments below.



To JOHN_KEATS,

Two questions:

1) How did you happen to spend four years at West Point and then leave on your "own volition"?

2) Although I am sure some "intellectual[ly] active, curious, and rigorous" students that like to "sit on a quad and read Descartes" do exist, don't you feel like you are significantly overestimating that portion of the student body? During my time at Georgetown, even the more academically exceptional and distinguished students were more obviously concerned with that weekend's kegger than our friend René's contributions to mathematics. To quote Loverboy, the overwhelming sentiment at GT seemed to be "everybody's working for the weekend"; while at West Point, we never had much of a weekend to speak of.

Posted by: Nats202 | April 28, 2009 9:05 AM
Report Offensive Comment

As BRIANX9 said:
"Colonel, stick to what you know.
The fact that a higher proportion of USMA grads make it to general rank is not a reflection of the higher caliber of officers that it turns out.
It is a reflection of the good-old-boys network in action.
This is transparent."

Yeah, Colonel! Stick to what you know... like the military, Army promotions, and West Point.
West Point's merit and the officers it produces aside for now, BRIANX9 represents the worst of American society (regardless of secondary education or military status). His statements are so witless and moronic, his alma mater (whatever community college or trade school that may be) should be ashamed.

"It is a reflection of the good-old-boys network in action.
This is transparent."
Aside from the fact that this is complete conjecture and you are anything but impartial, you ignore the unpleasant logic involved: West Point commissions less than a quarter of all active-duty officers. Soooooooo, given that every year, more than 75% of incoming officers are NOT West Pointers: how could USMA grads get such a commanding grasp on the promotion structure to establish a "good-old-boys network"?

"That is transparent."
Sometimes things aren't as obvious as they seem and some research is required. That is where a brain can come in handy. And since that precludes you from conducting said research...
Enjoy mediocrity!

PS. You should get back to your post at Arby's; the curly-fries are burning.

Posted by: Nats202 | April 28, 2009 8:50 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Anyone expecting West Point to excel in English Lit, didn't belong there to begin with. And UNC could definitely streamline its budget.

POSTED BY: JOETH | APRIL 20, 2009 9:56 PM


===========


Anyone who read my comments and thought that I expected West Point to excel in English Lit didn't read closely. Anyone who questions someone's fitness to belong at West Point without knowing them (by all measureables I DID belong there) is speaking from ignorance.

Posted by: John_Keats | April 21, 2009 1:04 PM
Report Offensive Comment

.
Colonel, stick to what you know.

The fact that a higher proportion of USMA grads make it to general rank is not a reflection of the higher caliber of officers that it turns out.

It is a reflection of the good-old-boys network in action.
This is transparent.
.

Posted by: BrianX9 | April 21, 2009 4:06 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Anyone expecting West Point to excel in English Lit, didn't belong there to begin with. And UNC could definitely streamline its budget.

Posted by: JoeTH | April 20, 2009 9:56 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Three highly respected sources -- Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, and StateUniversity.com -- rank West Point in the top 10 of all 4,000 colleges and universities in the nation: Forbes.com ranked West Point sixth-best college or university in America, while U.S. News and World Report rated West Point the "Top Public Liberal Arts College" with the fifth-best "Undergraduate Engineering Program." Additionally, West Point ranks fourth in the number of Rhodes Scholarships awarded.

=========

These rankings are deceiving. I am not long removed from the West Point classroom, and I can tell you that the quality of academic discourse, curiosity, exploration, and expression is NOTHING like UNC. Don't think that I just want to slam cadets, either. As a cadet, you are focused on one thing: graduation. Do you have time to sit on a quad and read Descartes? No. Do you have the opportunity to see student theatre? No. West Point is not college. It is a completely different animal. The students are UNC are more intellectual active, curious, and rigorous than my West Point peers were, myself included, because there simply is no time for the depth of study that goes on in a regular school. West Point supporters can hold up these rankings all they want, but that'll only worsen the identity crisis.

Posted by: John_Keats | April 20, 2009 6:56 PM
Report Offensive Comment

As an ex-cadet who left of his own volition after four years at West Point, and who can compare those four years to the two I have spent at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have a very unique perspective on this debate. There is no doubt in my mind that West Point is a fine institution and produces an incredible amount of great officers each year. But to compare West Point to other elite universities is like comparing apples and oranges. West Point is not in the business of creating students. West Point exists to produce Army officers, dedicated to a lifetime of service, and any academics that they happen to pick up are simply coincidental. West Point is not college. A daily routine that is structured to the minute, without avenues for creative exploration or thought is not college. But that's fine. That's what ROTC is for. At UNC, I have learned much much more about English Lit (my major) than I ever did at West Point. However, at West Point, I was groomed (effectively) to become a leader of soldiers. The system works. ROTC, OCS, and West Point are all integral to the officer corps make-up, and do not need fundamental alteration. West Point could probably streamline its budget, however.

Posted by: John_Keats | April 20, 2009 6:48 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company