Monday, February 22, 2010

Parsing honor at Annapolis

There are a few things that I hold as self-evident. This simple progression, is one of them;
- The most effective things and the most important things are simple to describe and protect.
- When effective and important things are inconvenient to some, barriers to their needs - they complicate the effective and important.
- When effective and important things are made more complicated, they become flaccid and ill-defined.
- Flaccid and ill-defined things can be easily shaped and avoided.
- Things easily shaped and avoided are useful for everything and nothing.
- Things that can be used for everything and nothing are ineffective and unimportant.
This weekend at The Captial, Ensign Stephen E. Shaw has an important article that requires your attention titled,
Naval Academy Honor Concept strays from roots.

You don't have to be a Annapolis Alumni to be concerned with Annapolis - I'm not. The fact remains that this is the critical core of our future leadership - its seed corn. What is learned there is brought to the Fleet. What is damaged there has to be repaired in the Fleet. Honor - or one's respect of it - is the wellspring from which all else flows. If you don't get that right, it is hard to make the rest work from being a DivO to running a Program Office.

You have to read it all - seriously - because the strength of the article is how ENS Shaw describes how a simple system has been perverted in such a way that it is almost impossible to talk about it. So complicated, that good people can't even argue about it because no one really understands it. You cannot enforce something you can't explain, understand, or follow.

The French have a great word for someone who works in and is stuck in a bureaucratic mindset -
fonctionnaire - that about describes the only personality type that could support the system at Annapolis as it exists today.

Here is the pull-quote,
The current widespread problem of cynicism at the Academy is an indication of a failure to do this. I often wondered, What legitimate reason does the Naval Academy midshipman have to be cynical? The quality of education is high and is provided at no cost to the midshipman. The opportunities available to each member of the Brigade far surpass those available to any comparable undergraduate student in the country, including cadets at West Point and the Air Force Academy who have fewer options for service assignments.

It is difficult to believe, as it is oftentimes claimed, that trivialities such as limited weekend liberty or regulated exercise uniforms are the main causes of cynicism. The average midshipman is not, and has never been, adverse to hard or challenging work. In fact, this is what typically attracts him or her to the Academy in the first place. Something is driving midshipmen to acquire cynical attitudes towards the Naval Academy.
In 2005, the committee structure was completely abandoned. The current "honor staff" is a subcomponent of the regular Brigade organization, and honor staff members are selected by a panel of senior officers at the Naval Academy. 27 It must be noted that few, if any, midshipmen have had a “say” in the changes that have been made to the system over the years— a system which was originally created by midshipmen and enacted by a nearly unanimous Brigade-wide vote.

Nonetheless, since the system was established in 1951, each new class of midshipmen has been taught that the Naval Academy has a non-codified, or concept-based, standard of honor despite the system’s actual structure. There is still regular discussion and proclamation that the Brigade "owns" the Honor Concept (sometimes meaning both the statement and the system, depending on whom you talk to), despite the fact that: 1) the Brigade plays no role whatsoever in the selection of honor staff members, and 2) the selected staff members report directly to the Honor Officer, who is a member of the Department of Character Development and Training Division under the Commandant. This is a far cry indeed from the original structure, which on occasion saw the First Class Committee Chairman, who was the midshipman responsible for overseeing the system, report directly to the Superintendent. 28

While the system has undergone drastic changes throughout the past 60 years, the description and discussion of it have remained basically unchanged. Due to the inconsistency between how the system was understood and how it actually operated, midshipmen, alumni, faculty members, and staff officers have little confidence in the effectiveness of the current program.

The system is claimed to be non-codified, yet definitions remain; it is claimed to not be based on fear, yet its only function is to punish (although I am unaware of any midshipmen who were separated solely due to an honor offense in the last four years); it is claimed to be owned and operated by the Brigade, yet the Brigade has no “say” in the selection of staff members, nor do those staff members have any real authority over the system, other than the execution of documented procedures and orders from the staff officers assigned over them.
As long as the inconsistencies described above are allowed to exist, it remains practically impossible to address any issues afflicting the honor system. Since the same terminology (concept, ownership, etc.) has been used for the past six decades, officers, midshipmen, and alumni who attempt to discuss these issues are not aware that they very well may be talking about different things. For example, it took me nearly four years to completely piece together the evolution of the honor system from its creation in 1951 to what exists today. The confusing language and recycled terminology has made work on this program convoluted and tedious at best. The current honor system at the Naval Academy is inconsistent, ineffective, contradictory, misunderstood, and confusing, and has little support from the Naval Academy community as a whole.
I've said it before, and I will say it again. There is nothing wrong with the MIDN at Annapolis. This generation of men and women are just fine, thank you very much. The problem is with the older generations above them.

These MIDN - the ones you want - will have no problems meeting a superior standard, all you have to do is ask. All leadership has to do is to have the courage to meet the standard in action that they describe in words.

Remember, what is learned at the Academy is brought to the Fleet - the good and the bad.

Crossposted at USNIBlog.


Philo said...

I miss the good old "Midshipmen are persons of integrity, they do not lie, cheat, or steal."  I'll never understand why we had to add additional words.

Old P-3 FO said...

Though he presents a compelling case and a nice bit of research, I have to disagree with ENS Shaw.  There is TOO MUCH focus on "remediation".  The Honor Concept states: "Midshipmen ARE persons of integrity," not "Midshipmen will be persons of integrity before they graduate".  Break the rules, party too much, sleep in, fine.  Serve your restriction and learn your lesson, but when Mids will lie about a conduct offense because they don't fear the repercussions of an honor case, we are on the wrong track. 
  My understanding of the H.C. when I was a mid was that if you were found to have committed an offence by the board, you were sent to the Dant as "in violation" and barring very rare circumstances were separated.  The dant was the final abiter, but separation was the norm, not remediation.  In my view, this worked.  As my squad leader told us on I-Day: "It is ok to be wrong sometimes, it is okay to screw up sometimes.  Be a man and admit what you have done.  Lying about it here will get you thrown out, but lying about it in the fleet can get sailors killed."

Have we lost this idea?

Philo said...

We lost the idea when Midshipmen lost the ability to counsel in the aftermath of the EE scandal.  That was when the honor concept was effectively taken away from the Mids, which was a mistake that indicated a lack of trust by the administration.  The fractured trust creates an us (mids) vs them (admin) attitude, which degrades an honor system because it used to be about us (those with integrity) vs them (those without).

Anonymous said...

A- to ENS Shaw.  He should have made it clear to the Capital that his byline should NOT carry his rank.  Note his service in a footnote, explain it's his personal opinions, and not those of the Navy or the Naval Academy.  Bad form to publish by rank.

Guest2 said...

<span>but when Mids will lie about a conduct offense because they don't fear the repercussions of an honor case, we are on the wrong track.  </span>

I see a bit of a diversion between what is said in the above sentence and what you imply in the rest of your comment.   If midshipmen ARE persons of integrity as you suggest then the attitude of the administration and the fear (or lack thereof) of getting caught should have no bearing on their actions when confronted with a conduct offense.  However, you suggest that they "fear the repercussions" and this motivates their actions.  Taken to the extreme, the "bus ticket home the next day" approach to honor violations will produce MIDN who lie very infrequently but perhaps only out of fear and not personal virtue.  A person's character is shaped by the experiences they have and, as such, MAY be improved.  It is tempting, with experience and age, to point out how the mistakes of younger men and women are intolerable while failing to recall the times when we were perhaps less than honest.  I imagine, though cannot be certain, that any retiree who looks back on a long and perhaps distinguished career can find a time when they uttered a half-truth.  That offense, though not discovered, is even more licentious than the 19 year old's.  However, if you felt oppressive guilt, and chose never to do likewise again you are not beyond hope and, having shored up a weakness in your character that you might not have considered to exist, may consider yourself to be still honorable.  I would too.

LT B said...

This is no different than in the Fleet where everything is pushed up the CoC.  Senior leadership will not let the more junior leadership make decisions for fear of how it makes them, the seniors look.  So, the academy has it all go to the senior leadership, and no longer is it owned by the mids.  How many cases end at DRB anymore?  How many do NOT go to mast.  Is there really deck plate leadership? 

wardroomczarina said...

I agree with the old P-3 Fo (btw, great platform.) :)  but ENS Shaw did do a LOT of research and it is merely a reflection of his opinion after a year on the academy's honor staff. He believes there should be more to an honor concept- as there is more to honor itself- than simply not lying, cheating, and stealing or toleration of those who do it.  Honor is a way of life, and every situation is not simple, black or white.  This is why it is so important to have a brigade-run honor system.  Yes, there are a lot of MIDs at the academy whose definition of honor is messed up, or who simply choose not to apply it to thier own lives; ENS Shaw knows this well.  Honor doesn't change entirely, but like everything else it evolves.  ENS Shaw's example ensures that honor is still forefront in people's minds; that is the main purpose of revising the concept but people did not understand that.  Congratulations on being published Steven, and good luck in  your career. 

C-dore 14 said...

They probably don't teach them that any more either.

Bubba Bob said...

An Honor code needs to be simple.  I will not lie, cheat or steal, is.  An honorable man does none of those things. 

You could formulate a code that said I will inform on my brother.  Some men, some honorable men, would say grassing is not honorable. Is such a code an honor code?

Old NFO said...

I remember strategic seating during unit NATOPS evals, command review of rainform messages (purples,) every officer in the top one percent, gaming the supply system, trying to get the gouge on NTPI's and other inspections.  I remember the drill instructor and class officer looking the other way while we boosted the short guy over the 10 foot wall at AOCS, telling the cat crew that I was 4,000 lbs heavier than I really was, and keeping unauthorized tools in the AME shop while signing a form that said there weren't any.  These were universally accepted practices, none of which would be in strict compliance of the "Honor Code."  

Most of my trade school buddies were in the classes of 1972 to 1980.  Their interpretation of the code was "I will not lie, cheat or steal except to save my ass or the ass of a buddy."

Byron said...

An aviation chief once told me that if he kept his tools exactly as the book called out he'd never be able to fix an engine.

AJ said...

Interesting to me that the system proposed is nearly identical to the one in place from 1999-2002, with an exception being what decision the board is voting on. It still doesn't address the frustration of the midshipmen, USNA faculty or staff, when they see someone found "in violation" of a multiple honor offenses playing in a Navy jersey.

Same problem with conduct violations when the people recommending "remediation" are already trying to keep the diversity bullies and admissions powerpoints at bay. 

CDR S - Thank you for hitting the nail on the head. The problem isn't that the current generation cannot or will not live up to standards. It is the generation in charge of setting and maintaining the standards.

Philo said...

At least he didn't lie to you about it.

Philo said...

Old NFO,
I'm astonished that you cheated on NATOPS exams.  In my squadron, you'd have been having a long conversation at the end of a green table.  Are there grey areas, yes.  That's why the system used to allow people to counsel and then decide whether to refer to the honor board.  The difference between Midshipmen and Officers is that one has a commission and one is learning the basics.  Integrity is fundamental to being a good officer.

Old NFO said...

That's a large part of the problem.  The powers that be mandate rules and procedures that require you to cheat or fail.  Then you have to lie to cover up the cheating.  As for stealing, a supply corps auditor once told me that at least 95% of "misappropriated" property was where it was supposed to be, being used for it's intended purpose, but the system made it too difficult to get it within the system.  I know of one occasion when a used flight jacket was traded for 300 DIFAR bouys so a squadron could complete a FLEETEX.  

Perhaps the Navy has completely changed in the last several years but imaginative scrounging and "good staff work" was highly prized during my squadron days.  

On the other hand I like the old German Navy quote.  "The reason the American Navy does so well in war is that war is chaos and the American Navy operates in chaos everyday."  Or words to that effect.

Old NFO said...

Actually I never needed to cheat on those things.  I am blessed with a good memory and a talent for multiple guess tests.  I did, however, review the test gouges that were circulated from previous unit NATOPS eval closed book tests in other squadrons in the wing.  

Are you honestly saying that you were in a squadron that never sought a little "insight" into what command inspections, or NUCWEP inspectors, or even RAG unit NATOPS evaluators were focusing on?  That you never had a systems weak dept head sit next to a NATOPS whiz during the closed book?  I was in three squadrons in two communities and at least ten unit NATOPS evaluations.  To some extent it happened in every one. 

On the other hand.  Lying or cheating WITHIN the squadron was an absolute no-no.  Dishonesty within was the surest way to the bottom of the heap or out altogether.  But, on some external administrative matters and with inspectors it was essentially considered "Operational Deception."  Any officer not bright enough to grasp that dichotomy would have had a very tough time in any squadron I was in.

As for Byron's CPO, if he didn't hide his illegal tools, and lie to the wing inspector, I'll guarantee he was skinned during the command inspection.

DM05 said...

I sincerely believe you when you say the greatest American's are preparing now. Godspeed to 'em.

However, it's currently a zero tolerance, zero sum game and the boys with gold at USNA my age or older'n me learned it well. Too bad they're now in charge, as many should be fired... Said it before, close USNA, save the $$, select the best & brightest from America's best institutions, and run a 6-9 month shake & bake OCS program in sunny Sandy Eggo. Eliminate D 1 football and all the garbage, provide redemption for the bad boys that got it outta the system, and all can start clean on an even playing field. Honor, service, and commitment starts there, rather than the make believe game on the Severn. Ya don't even have to buy a ring to knock around.

Philo said...

If you think there are ethics problems at USNA, you couldn't imagine what happens at civilian institutions.  Four years together by the bay and a "shake and bake OCS program" don't even begin to compare.

Philo said...

<span>That you never had a systems weak dept head sit next to a NATOPS whiz during the closed book? </span>
I've NEVER witnessed cheating on NATOPS exams.  Everyone asks what to expect, but a closed book exam is a closed book exam.  I'm aware of Dept Heads failing the closed book, but there was never cheating in my squadrons.  NATOPS knowledge is the foundation and aviators get paid extra to be professional aviators.  If you allowed people to bypass the standards, you contribute to the decline of the profession, just like the admin at USNA when they give liars a free pass.

Anonymous said...

I now see that my time at Canoe U (about 10 years ago) was part of this "transition" phase.  Most of the lying liars and the liars who lied for them got popped on conduct offenses and the occasional drug bust, and honor was just the icing on the cake.  The administration starting leaning real heavy on the honor boards with "officer advisors" and the like. 

Re:  honor through the fleet lens, my friends and I used to joke (and still do) that we didn't cheat and had the grades to prove it.  I'm still amazed I never went to an Ac board.  That being said, if I had a group of 2/c call me at 0030 and say "hey, I think one of us is good enough to drive back", you better believe they were told to sleep it off and that taps sheet said "all present".  If it happened more than once, the senior enlisted would somehow catch wind of it and give them a ration of hell, but the system worked.

These days (like when I was there) separation is now the supe's call, and for a twilight cruise we're getting some real politicians in that billet.

Herbal said...

Why is it wrong to publish by rank?  This isn't a political activity.  It's analysis and recommendations.  Not any different than publishing a journal article in Proceedings, just a different forum.

Anathema said...

DRB - It so very much depends on the case.  If CPOs wait until someone gets written up for assault, or disrespect, or UA or the host of other common offenses it is difficult for the XO and CO to let DRB handle it.

If, however, the CPOs (and in some cases DivOs and DHs) are watching out for their Sailors and on the second or third "late" send the otherwise UA case to DRB, or the CPO sees that 2nd class mouth off to the 1st Class and come just a little close to the line - those are excellent DRB cases.

But, but but...the CPOs can't have DRB in a vacuum.  On many a ship that is what was happening.  CPOs would hold mast and decide...and neither XO or CO were apprised of what they were doing and why.

If CPO/CMC and CO/XO work as a team, then DRB means something.  If, however, the CPOs go maverick and do their own thing - or worse, just say "F-it, the CO won't let us handle things", then DRB won't work.  Same goes for the too tight CO (or XO, DivO, DH) who won't let the greyer of the grey work itself in the less formal way.

Anthony Mirvish said...

Weren't the current leaders once good kids eager to do their best at USNA and in the fleet?  The more relevant question than, "What's wrong with Annapolis?" is "Why are these the men who were promoted?" 

USNA can't acknowledge that Professor Fleming was right about the diversity (and athletic) -mandated dual-standards on admission.  PC is by definition hostile to objective truth (see Climategate for a civilian example).  Given that its defenders are frequently hysterical and irrational, few want to fight them.  The cost of fighting is promotions.  So, people get corrupted and it is the example, not the rhetoric that teaches.  The midshipmen observe this and respond accordingly.   Dishonesty and cynicism are the result.

Philo said...

I wish I could find a copy of the Washington Post article "Adrift in Annapolis" from the 90's.

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