The director of sociology at West Point claims the Army officer corps needs to be racially “representative” of the American public, and diversity makes the officer corps more effective.
In a recent report in USA Today, Col. Irving Smith, an African-American infantry officer who has served in Afghanistan, said, “It certainly is a problem for several reasons.”
But legal experts say both premises have serious flaws.
“Neither justification has been recognized by the courts as constitutionally adequate,” says Roger Clegg, president and general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity.
University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax, a prominent critic of race-based employment policy, warns, “For all the supposed benefits of a diverse officer corps, it really would impose weighty risks and costs in promoting less qualified and capable people.”
The ‘problem’ of too many white officers
Smith had written: “First we are a public institution. And as a public institution we certainly have more of a responsibility to our nation than a private company to reflect it. In order to maintain their trust and confidence, the people of America need to know that the Army is not only effective but representative of them.”
But in the article, no examples were offered to show how the “trust and confidence” of the American public could be undermined by a particular racial makeup of its military officers.
Smith said, “Diversity and equal opportunity are important, but most people don’t point out that it makes the Army more effective.”
However, Smith, in a 2010 article for the Army War College journal “Parameters,” had another opinion.
He said then, “[R]esearch on diversity with respect to complex tasks and group performance is rather ambiguous.”
The full context of his remark indicates that there are serious doubts as to whether racial diversity would actually produce the touted benefits: “[S]enior leaders have to communicate precisely why diversity is important. … There are two points that senior leaders should make perfectly clear. The first is that diversity is linked to performance as an institution. This is a difficult message to develop and communicate, because research on diversity with respect to complex tasks and group performance is rather ambiguous.”
Wax thinks otherwise, stating, “The research is not really ambiguous, although agenda-driven psychologists try to make it so.”
A solution in search of a problem?
The USA Today article did not include any experts disagreeing with the choice to define a high percentage of white officers as a “problem.”
And Clegg said, “This is supposed to be an elite group made up of the individuals best qualified to lead troops into battle and to win wars; whether it is demographically ‘representative’ or not is entirely irrelevant.”
To Smith’s contention that Army officers should be racially “representative,” Clegg says, “This sounds like nothing but what Justice Powell called ‘discrimination for its own sake’ in Bakke.”
In the Supreme Court’s 1978 Bakke decision, the justices banned numerical quotas in college admissions. In that Justice Lewis Powell wrote, “Preferring members of any one group for no reason other than race or ethnic origin is discrimination for its own sake. This the Constitution forbids.”
Written by Otway Burns
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