EXCLUSIVE: Air Force Academy Privately Fretted The End Of Race-Based Admissions Would Hamstring ‘Diversity’ Goals

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Air Force Academy’s top official worried the Supreme Court’s decision that race-based admissions were unconstitutional would set back the service’s “warfighting imperative” of building a racially diverse military, according to emails obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

On June 30, 2023, Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, the Air Force Academy’s superintendent, wrote a preview of the consequences that the Supreme Court’s decision striking down affirmative action could have for service academies’ abilities to judge candidates on the basis of race, according to emails the DCNF obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Although the justices did not overtly apply the decision to military schools, the records show how the Air Force Academy scrambled to minimize the impact of the June 29 decision on racial diversity goals.

“If we lose our limited window to reshape the racial diversity of each incoming class, it would affect our ability to meet the warfighting imperative of fielding a diverse, inclusive force,” Clark wrote. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Here’s What They’re Teaching In The Naval Academy’s Gender And Sexuality Class)

The names of recipients of Clark’s email were redacted.

Clark noted that the Air Force Academy itself has limited discretion over the composition of each year’s incoming class. Congressional appointments, when U.S. senators and representatives nominate young members of their constituencies for attendance, determine more than half of entrants, with another 25% or so allotted to athletic recruitment.

After that, the academy is only able to “shape” the remaining 10% to 20% of officer candidates, Clark said. The academy could consider a variety of factors, including their potential to become pilots — for which the Air Force is experiencing a severe shortage — socio-economic status, gender and race.

“If [the U.S. Air Force Academy] were to voluntarily comply with the Supreme Court decision, our ability to shape a diverse class would become more limited,” Clark wrote.

Two candidates presenting similar overall qualifications might be judged based on those factors, he wrote, allowing for the possibility that a candidate’s race could be the determining factor. He noted that the Air Force Academy has outperformed other services in terms of racial and ethnic diversity.

“These factors are used to design a class of diverse backgrounds in accordance with [the Department of the Air Force’s] broad definition of diversity and operational needs,” Clark wrote. “As such, not being able to consider race in a holistic review would further hinder DAF diversity, moreso than civilian universities.”

The Air Force’s definition of diversity includes race, ethnicity, gender, personal life experience, cultural knowledge, prior education, work experience and “spiritual perspectives,” department guidance states.

Chief Justice John Roberts punted the question of whether the Supreme Court’s ruling on race-based admissions should apply to service academies to a later date, noting that the military may have “potentially distinct” reasons related to national security for considering race as a factor in admissions.

Following the court’s decision, Students for Fair Admissions sued the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Naval Academy at Annapolis to prove their race-based admissions policies are discriminatory. In mid-December, a federal judge blocked an injunction that would have put a temporary stay on the Naval Academy’s use of race in admissions.

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO - JUNE 1: Air Force Academy cadets enter Falcon Stadium as they prepare to graduate on June 1, 2023 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The event featured the graduation of 921 Air Force cadets and a commencement address by President Joe Biden.

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO – JUNE 1: Air Force Academy cadets enter Falcon Stadium as they prepare to graduate on June 1, 2023 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Department of Defense (DOD) service academy officials argued in July that the military does not entertain illegal racial quotas but does angle recruiting efforts at specific populations to meet racial, ethnic and gender diversity goals.

An email to Clark, dated Oct. 31, 2022, the day after oral arguments began, noted that the academy had worked extensively with the unnamed solicitor general, likely referring to U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar on the case to furnish her with the military’s perspective on the importance of considering race in admissions decisions. Representatives from the academy and members of other federal agencies attended two practice debates with the solicitor general, the records show.

The sender’s list was redacted, but language in the email suggests the sender was affiliated with the Air Force Academy.

“If what you’re asking me is whether we think the military has distinctive interests in this context, I would say yes,” Prelogar told the Supreme Court in October, a transcript shows. “And I think it’s critically important for the Court in its decision in these cases to make clear that those interests are, I think, truly compelling with respect to the military.”

The Air Force Academy would endeavor to remain in lockstep with its Army and Navy counterparts as well as guidance from the Secretary of Defense, Clark said in the June email.

Prior to a decision on the outcome of the case, however, the Air Force seemed confident the ruling would not meaningfully impact the Academy “since they do admission differently from Harvard/UNC,” an unnamed sender wrote in a June 29 email to Clark. That is, “as long as it didn’t ban targeting recruiting efforts.”

However, the sender noted that the Department of Defense and the academy would need some time to fully parse out the ramifications of whatever the Supreme Court decides.

The Air Force said it withheld some records from the DCNF’s request “as it is considered privileged in litigation” per United States Code, Title 5, Section 552 (b)(5) covering documents “which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.”

The Air Force Academy did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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