In the private sector, the rule of thumb in economic downturns is, “Last hired, first fired.” Get government involved and that principle gets turned on its head.
Thus, during the current government shutdown, most of what the government subsidizes in education goes unmolested, whatever its value, while military service academies are “going under the knife,” as the Greatest Generation describes radical surgery.
“The Defense Department said last week that it would not grant tuition assistance for classes starting on or after October 1 until Congress passed a spending bill for the Pentagon,” Kelly Field reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education on October 11, 2013. “Thousands of students who were scheduled to start class last week are being advised to withdraw or find other ways to pay for their programs, such as with GI Bill money.”
“The Department of Veterans Affairs has said it would continue to process claims and payments of education benefits, until existing funds are exhausted, probably in late October.”
Meanwhile, Field reports:
- At the U. S. Naval Academy, were more than half of the 508 faculty members are civilians, military instructors are substituting for civilians whenever possible.” Twenty percent of classes have been cancelled.
- “The U. S. Air Force Academy, meanwhile, has furloughed 1,000 civilian employees, more than two-thirds of its total. Twenty percent of classes on the Colorado campus have been suspended.”
- “At the U. S Military Academy, in West Point, N. Y., where only 30 percent of the faculty members are civilians, classes haven’t been cancelled yet, but some class sizes have doubled, as military professors take on sections for furloughed colleagues.”
Ironically, the one possible silver lining actually comes from the furloughing of civilian employees. As I wrote  a year ago, “Academics have always had a hard time accepting the service academies even when they work for them.”
Indeed, AIA has covered a trio of such civilian “mavericks” in the service academies:
- Bruce Fleming  has taught English at the Naval Academy for more than two decades and makes no secret of his animosity towards his employer of record.
- In 2010, Philip J. Crowley  stepped down from his post as a State Department spokesman before stepping into a War College fellowship in conjunction with Penn State. What preceded his exit from Foggy Bottom were some undiplomatic comments that he made about the Army’s treatment of Private Bradley Manning, who leaked classified documents to WIkiLeaks.
- As we reported last year, Jeff Dyche , now a psychologist at James Madison University, experienced culture shock during his stint at the U. S. Air Force Academy (AFA ). He apparently did not expect administrators to regard social science research as “fuzzy” and to view his own project—whether sleep deprivation affects job performance—with skepticism.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia .
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .