Fleming Takes Aim at Herndon, NAPS, and more

This past May, the Naval Academy class of 2013 climbed an ungreased Herndon Monument and if Superintendent Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler had his way, the annual ceremony would be discontinued because it serves no useful training purpose and could cause serious injuries. USNA professor Bruce Fleming thinks that's not the real reason why the tradition's future is in serious jeopardy.

This past May, the Naval Academy class of 2013 climbed an ungreased Herndon Monument and if Superintendent Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler had his way, the annual ceremony would be discontinued because it serves no useful training purpose and could cause serious injuries. USNA professor Bruce Fleming thinks that's not the real reason why the tradition's future is in serious jeopardy.

I'll get to what Fleming had to say about Herndon in a bit. Before I asked him about the controversy surrounding the monument though, I asked him about the controversy he stirred after writing his opinion piece for the New York Times. A lot of people took to the message boards, including ‘The Wardroom' at GoMids.com, to combat the professor's points. One of the more noted voices of dissention on the internet came from Navy football color analyst and best-selling author John Feinstein. In this blog entry, Feinstein took Fleming to task for "attacking" Navy football players all for the purpose of "calling attention to himself" and to help himself out by "making a few bucks." Indeed, Feinstein's opinion is a popular one. Most critics think that Fleming likes to make waves because the more the choppy the water the more books he will sell.

I asked Fleming to respond directly to Feinstein as well as others who question his motives.

FLEMING RESPONDS TO FEINSTEIN:

Of course nobody's counter-attack to Fleming got more attention than the Superintendent of the Naval Academy's own rebuttal. In part one of this series I dissected the cost portion of Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler's statement and it seemed on paper that Fleming's claims about the disproportionate costs of a Naval Academy education when compared to a ROTC one were more accurate. Fleming, to the say the least, was not only unimpressed with Fowler's counterclaims, but he has also been dissatisfied with the leadership of the majority of the past Superintendents in Annapolis. However, Fowler's replacement, Rear Adm. Michael Miller will take over this September and who knows, maybe he will reach out to Fleming and see if there is some common ground to be found that could help both sides. What does the professor think the chances are of that happening?

WILL NEW SUPE AND FLEMING DO LUNCH :

Whether or not the new superintendent extends an olive branch to Fleming probably won't be the most monitored decision that Miller makes as he takes over at the Academy. What Naval Academy alumni will really want to know is what the next superintendent intends to do about the Herndon Monument climb. In May, Fowler made waves of his own throughout the Naval Academy community when he said that he would like to end the decades-old tradition due to the inherent safety risks. Although the plebes did climb the monument this year, there was no grease added to it which made the challenge of getting to the top hardly a challenge at all. It took the Class of 2013 just over two minutes to put the midshipman cover on top of Herndon probably ensuring that an asterisk will be needed to explain the ease of their success in the history books. Wikipedia already has an end note to explain the quick time – so I guess that's a start in the right direction.

Never one to shy away from a lively debate, I asked Fleming what he thought of the Herndon climb tradition and whether or not it still had a future in Annapolis. The professor did not disappoint with his answer as he suggested that the real reason for Fowler wanting to discontinue the tradition has nothing at all to do with the relatively minor injury concerns.

THE DAYS OF HERNDON ARE OVER:

For the majority of my two-hour conversation with Fleming we talked about the quality of a Naval Academy education. It took awhile for me to get to his well-known issues surrounding the sports programs at Annapolis. His major problem is that he believes the Naval Academy, as well as the other service academies bend their admissions standards for too many recruited athletes. In fact, if Fleming had his way, all of Navy's sports teams would be filled with walk-ons and the whole notion of blue-chip recruits would cease to exist at military schools.

At the top of Fleming's list for proof that the Naval Academy's policies towards recruited athletes is out of control is its prep school in Newport, Rhode Island. Fleming has called the Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS), the "backdoor into Annapolis" for "less-qualified" candidates. In the following clip, Fleming threw some numbers around regarding NAPS that I was able to check against numbers supplied by Naval Academy officials. I will provide an overview of that information below. Unfortunately, this portion of our interview got cut-off because the recording device had a two-hour maximum, but did I manage to ask Fleming about how many midshipmen he thought got into the Academy primarily because of their athletic ability.

RECRUITED ATHLETES AND NAPS:

Since the tape ran out as we were just getting into Fleming's specific issues with NAPS and recruited athletes, I decided to do some research based on some of the professors points on the issue.

In the previous clip, Fleming said that NAPS has graduated about twice as many students as it did a few years ago. Although the number of NAPS graduates has increased, Fleming was a bit high in his estimate. This July, 262 NAPS students entered the Naval Academy. This is a 34.3% increase from the lowest number (195) of students in 2001. Meanwhile since 2007 the number of minorities who are admitted to NAPS is up 75.8%. In fact of the 306 students to entered NAPS in 2010, 211 or 69% were minorities. To compare, in 2007, minorities only made up 47% of the incoming class.

Fleming also said in our interview that about half of the students who are admitted to NAPS are recruited athletes. This estimate is also off a bit. In 2010, recruited athletes made up 36.2% of the incoming class. While the number of recruited athletes who make up a NAPS class have usually hovered around 30% in the past decade, it did go up to 40% in 2008.

Out of curiosity, I asked the Naval Academy for the number of prior enlisted Sailors and Marines or ‘priors' who were admitted to NAPS for the past ten years to see if there were any trends in that area. Counter to Fleming's assertion that NAPS was more focused on minorities and recruited athletes, I was always under the impression that one of the main reasons for NAPS was to give priors, who may have been away from the classroom for awhile (and for good reason), an opportunity to catch-up on their academics prior to entering the Naval Academy. What I found out was a bit shocking. In 2001, 90 priors accounted for 30.6% of the incoming NAPS class. In 2010, only 24 of 306 students, or 7.8%, admitted to NAPS were priors.

The numbers of direct admits from the Fleet to USNA are decreasing as well. In 2003, 108 priors went directly to the Naval Academy, but this summer only 34 priors came to Annapolis right from the Fleet. That is a 68.5% decrease. These figures have gotten the attention of the USNA administration and they confirmed to GoMids.com that they are actively engaged in attempting to reverse this trend through various marketing initiatives.

Another interesting note from the statistics supplied to me by Naval Academy officials was the recent trend in graduation rates at NAPS. In 2007, the graduation rate at NAPS was 83%. However in 2008, that number fell to 74% - the lowest since 2002. Academy officials pointed out that 2008 was the last year in which NAPS students were required to attain a 2.0 GPA in order to graduate. Now, according to Academy officials, administrators have more leeway in who they allow to graduate NAPS, including students who fail to attain a 2.0 GPA but have shown "progress" in the classroom while in Newport. Whether that change was in response to the low graduation rate was unclear as I posted this story, but the change in policy definitely helped increase the graduation rates in 2009 (87%) and 2010 (89%). The 2010 graduation rate at NAPS is the highest in the past decade.

The statistics about NAPS also got Fleming's attention who said that they prove his point about who goes to NAPS and the unpublicized problem with the prep school.

"The mandate at NAPS is to get low-performing minorities and recruited athletes to Annapolis. The whole fall trimester's grades (in 2009) for the USNA Class of 2013 were simply thrown out," said Fleming. "It's not a school meant to ‘give a chance' to non-standard recruits, it's an almost guaranteed back door into USNA for applicants who are unqualified."

"As always there are individuals who disprove all this negativity. Some of the best midshipmen I've ever known have gone to NAPS, but unfortunately many more of the worst," continued Fleming. "I believe NAPS has changed character in the last decades, so many older flag officers who graduated from NAPS went to a different institution that at the time may have served quite a different purpose."

"NAPS," Fleming said, in its current state, "is a national embarrassment."

There are a few certainties when one sits down with Dr. Bruce Fleming for an interview. At the top of the list is the fact that the USNA English professor will hold no punches. He will tell you his opinion and won't mince words in the process. The other fact is that most Navy sports fans won't like what he has to say. Was this time any different? Probably not.

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David Ausiello is the senior writer for GoMids.com and a 1997 graduate of the Naval Academy. If you would like to share your thoughts on his series of articles regarding Professor Fleming, send him an email. If you missed the other articles in the series, you can read part one here and part two here.

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