"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Academic Freedom Violation in ACSC/DL

Fast forward to the next term and a different course "Joint Air and Space Power" with a new course instructor. My second grade appeal from the term previous had been submitted but had not quite been concluded when this new scenario developed.

I was engaged in a discussion with another student, an F-15C pilot, in the open class forum. He gave thoughts and opinions which I consider to be representative of his community. The discussion centered on the importance of unmanned versus manned technology and his comments framed warfare in the false dichotomy of today's wars versus a claimed conventional war of tomorrow. I responded with a lengthy post and essay. My tone was more caustic and indicative of frustration than was useful but was within the bounds of academic discussion. My response came with a healthy disclaimer stating my opinions were drawn from incomplete experiences. I mentioned that I knew there were exceptions to my blanket statements and that I even knew members from his community who did not merit the charges I leveraged. But I felt it was still justified to make a statement about his culture and warned him to bring a thick skin if he continued reading.

I proceeded to then point out cultural problems I believe are evident with the fighter community and the F-15C community in particular. I charged the community with careerism, nepotism, unprofessional conduct, perception at the expense of reality, petty agendas of promotion, unhealthy ties to the defense industry, and a lack of combat experience. I stated the leadership from his community had run our Air Force like a country club and, despite a healthy change of Air Force leadership, likely still worked against the efforts of patriots interested in winning the wars of today. I stated that careerism kills and claimed our ranks were full of careerist F-15C pilots unwilling to risk career to do the right thing. I then provided an essay on why unmanned technology provides a great many advantages beyond the manned fighter. There was likely more venom than required in my remarks and, as I explained in my disclaimer, these were my views based on my experiences. My experiences justify my comments regardless of tone. I must admit my tone could have been better, but I get frustrated having the same conversation with people who provide the exact same message as though it came off an assembly line. This frustration is a fault of mine. Be that as it may, my statements were within the bounds of ACSC discussion and nobody has challenged that.

Unfortunately the officer did not debate me in public. He did private message me, however, to let me know he felt it was a personal attack and he didn't appreciate my allusion to the former CSAF who he felt was the Billy Mitchell of our generation. He said he would not debate me online as such online discussion was "futile at best" and recommended I go talk to my OG/CC for a perspective. He said if he was ever in my neck of the woods he would love to have the discussion in person because I needed to have my perspective challenged. I informed him that I was TDY just down the road from him and would gladly drive to meet him and hear his perspective. He agreed but then the next day canceled due to a short notice TDY.

What he didn't tell me in the private message discussion, however, was that he had cut and pasted my comments (minus the essay) and sent them to his buddies at my base in my MAJCOM. His commentary included my name, position, background and instructions to enlist the help of other providers of Air Superiority with the goal of ensuring "haters" like me were not in the ranks. He mentioned to his buddies that he and they had a responsibility to educate people like me since they had "been there/done that." He made a couple comments including one about my callsign having probably been self given and then pasted my discussion and clicked send.

When he did so he violated my academic freedom. Air University Instruction 36-2308 states that our academic discussion was protected by non-attribution and warns that those who attribute comments to specific individuals without their permission, outside of PME, not only violate the regulation but violate Article 92 of the UCMJ (AUI 36-2308, 2.5.1). The purpose of academic freedom is to keep people from self censoring- something they will do if they believe controversial discussions and challenging ideas may result in them being punished.

Two weeks after he sent out the email I finally learned of its existence. It had circulated, as such emails typically do, and found its way to a two-star general in my chain of command (an F-15C pilot). The two-star energized my chain of command to find out if I wrote the comments in the email. My chain of command is comprised of all F-15C pilots with the exception of one F-16 pilot. I told my commander I did write the quoted section but the remarks were supposed to have been protected by non-attribution. Later I was told my chain of command was "satisfied" with my response.

In accordance with AUI 36-2308 I filed a petition for redress for academic freedom violation despite the Vice Dean recommending I not, since, he said, ACSC/DL was already investigating and thus my redress would be duplicated effort. He also mentioned the investigation was well under way and they likely had all the info they needed. At that point the student had already admitted to the violation and I provided the one incomplete email chain that had been sent to me.

That was more than a week ago. ACSC/DL hasn't yet officially concluded their process. They did, however, take action when I asked for the student to be removed from the class until the investigation was concluded since he obviously demonstrated a threat to further discussion. The action they took, however, was to censor him and me. Now neither one of us can post in the class discussion but we can both read the discussion from the other students.

I explained that this action doesn't protect the academic freedom of other students since the other officer can still read the conversation. I also mentioned that the purpose of academic freedom was to prevent people from self censoring and therefore officially censoring me did not help the goal of academic freedom but rather detracted from it. They said my comments were duly noted but nothing has changed.

This process will likely be elevated to the three-star general F-15C pilot in charge of my PME. If elevated I am confident he will take action to address the systemic lack of academic freedom in ACSC/DL to the credit of the Air Force by making any necessary corrections required from time to time.

EDIT: On 22 June 09 the petition was elevated. The course concluded on 28 June 09 and the F-15C pilot was never removed. My petition was received and is being worked at the Air University level.


  1. I guess "thick skin" is a relative term.

    Overall, you have a slight conundrum here. Kudos to you for not stepping into a steaming pile of hypocrisy and doing your best to honor the intent of non-attribution and academic integrity. However, by doing this, you've only presented one side of the story.

    Eagle Driver sounds like a Mark 1 douchebag, but by your own admission, your communications to him were caustic, of poor tone and with elevated levels of venom. Without actually knowing your comments, we'll just have to take you at your word that your statements were "within the bounds of ACSC discussion."

    If that is true, considering the original topic of a manned vs unmanned technology, exactly what is the 'academic value' of making admittedly blanket statements against an entire community with ad hominem attacks against their professional conduct? At what point do your comments no longer fall under the protection of academic freedom? He may be in clear violation of para 2.4.1 of the AFI, but I would argue that you were pretty close to violating para 2.6.

    A few other gems:
    - Again with the combat experience. The Eagle community's lack of it is a cultural defect? While there are certainly ramifications on multiple levels regarding the lack of combat experience in the current F-15C community, it certainly isn't their fault and to even bring it up is borderline petty.

    - "My experiences justify my comments regardless of tone" Seriously? You actually believe that? Lemme know how that attitude works out.

    - In what universe does an aggrieved student get to demand the removal of another?

    I am by no means defending the actions of Eagle Dude. If half of what you say is true, he deserves whatever punishment he gets (or should get). While your academic freedom was violated, it doesn't appear you were punished for your views by you chain of command. If you feel you were unfairly censored with the removal of your posting privileges, I would say that maybe disparaging an entire community in the AF doesn't fall under the auspices of academic freedom.

  2. You make some good points and raise some good questions. I'll try to sum them up and respond to each via several comments here.

    1. What is the academic value of a blanket statement made against an entire community and ad hominem attacks against their professional conduct?

    First, my blanket statement came with a disclaimer that my remarks were based on my experiences. It also said there were exceptions and that I personally knew exceptions. In my opinion, blanket statements about cultures are justified just as they are in an anthropological or ethical study. The level of accuracy of such statements is certainly up for debate. If there is one exception does that mean it's not useful or wrong to provide a blanket statement? I don’t believe so. Our brains are meant to group "like with like" and draw conclusions. It makes sense and is useful to do so. The danger, however, is that we stop accepting inputs in our data collection and therefore risk our understanding of reality failing to change with a changing reality or failing to change as we get a more complete view of reality. I gave the disclaimer to indicate that my statement was not absolute and that I am aware of exceptions. Part of this sounding board is to encourage people to post experiences counter to my own which brings me more directly to your point on why the blanket statement is academically valuable.

    It's valuable because if somebody disagrees with my statements they will speak up and provide their experiences and reasoning to counter my own. I can then evaluate that new information and change my view appropriately. While strong language does carry some risks to the discussion (like encouraging people that can't attack substance to instead attack form) it also has the added benefit of ensuring that typically quiet types don't remain quiet. Even people that have opinions and rarely provide them will be prompted to respond to somebody who makes a strongly asserted claim they don't agree with if they can. I would argue such an approach has some value (especially given an audience of Type A personalities) but it has to be weighed against the red herrings and distractions it invites. By the way, I'm not suggesting that you are attacking form instead of substance...you're definitely taking on my substance as well as my form. But there are others who will (and have) concentrated on the packaging of the message while ignoring the message itself. I think the approach I took has some value in the smaller PME discussion but maybe I’m wrong. Who knows what approach would have been the most useful...it’s hard to tell without a crystal ball. Maybe it would have been more useful had I went out of my way to make my real concerns more innocuous and my statements more friendly. I've ceded my delivery may have been more useful if done differently. Perhaps the form could have been better. While I am more focused on substance than form both are important.

  3. 2. You ask at what point do comments lose the protections of academic freedom and you indicate you think I was close to violating section 2.6 of AUI 36-2308.

    Nobody has raised the question of whether my substance was protected or not until your post above. Also, nobody raised the question of my form being anything but perfect until I did.

    As far as what speech is unprotected you mention section 2.6 of the regulation. It states that academic freedom must be tempered and that individuals must not make remarks that are offensive, unfounded, or irresponsible. My remarks were clearly founded on my experiences so that does not apply. "Offensive" and "irresponsible" are more subjective. Obviously any claim of "offense" does not necessarily make a person's statement offensive. It would be difficult to have a useful discussion of ideas if this were the case. So the regulation further explains what is meant by stating, "Offensive remarks or irresponsible statements include comments disparaging any person’s race, color, national origin, ethnic group, religion, or sex." My remarks certainly didn't do any of that.

    Again, no faculty or student member suggested my remarks were unworthy of academic protection. Section gives a seventy-two hour window for complaints against offensive or irresponsible remarks. No complaints were made.

    3. How is the F-15C lack of combat experience, which is not their fault, a cultural defect?

    I wouldn't call lack of combat experience a cultural defect, per se, but I do raise concerns with a culture in which those with the least combat experience run the Air Force and set agendas concerning combat. As Danskine shows, fighter pilots are grossly over represented in Air Force leadership (for good or ill) and from my experience F-15C pilots even more so.

    Danskine discusses different airframe communities (he calls them "tribes"):

    "They generally posess "cultures" that are disintinctive from other tribes, and visions or paradigms on the proper application of airpower that center on their own tribal beliefs" (Danskine, 2001, 5).

    He then goes on to discuss the role of combat experience in those cultures:

    "Additionally, I propose there are differences along the lines of generations.. This assumes that young officers entering the service will be influenced not only by their immediate tribe, but also by the combat experiences of their early career. This will, in turn, condition their way of viewing warfare" (Danskine, 2001, 7).

    He mentions how leaders like General Powell and General Schwarzkopf were affected by their Vietnam experiences. He also raises the question of the role combat experience will play in leadership once the last Vietnam experienced General retired. I think it's a fair question to ask why those with the least amount of combat experience are in most of the power positions in the Air Force. I think it’s useful to ask about self-selection in UPT and see if any characteristics can be distilled. I think it's fair to ask if that is good for the Air Force as a whole. When I heard the two-star F-15C pilot make remarks about Iraq and Afghanistan as "skirmishes" (mentioned in a previous comment) my chain of command at that point, from my squadron commander all the way up to the CSAF, consisted entirely of F-15C pilots...every last one of them. I think these cultural questions are worthy of exploration.

    4. You remarked about my comment that "My experiences justify my comments regardless of tone." Perhaps the intent of my remark didn't get through. What I'm saying here is that regardless of my tone or packaging, my experiences justify the message. In other words, while I admit that my form perhaps might have been better my substance was still justified.

  4. 5. You ask, "in what universe does an aggrieved student get to demand the removal of another?" That is a good question and I was actually surprised when I read section 3.3.1 of AUI 36-2308, which states, "the individual's request for redress of an academic freedom violation must include...the specific redress the individual is seeking" (AUI 36-2308).

    That is why I made that demand. It seems to me that if an officer fails to debate an idea he disagrees with and then takes those protected ideas and sends them outside of PME with the intent to harm then that officer has demonstrated they do not value academic freedom. Since academic freedom is required in all Air University courses my demand doesn't seem unreasonable. Especially not for a field grade officer.

    I'm more interested in the issue as part of my research. It seems to me the officer's actions may indicate a lack of moral courage which some, like Yingling, argue is not only required of a military officer but is lacking within our military culture to the extent it constitutes a crisis requiring Congressional interaction (Yingling, 2007). As Schein demonstrates, how people are punished and rewarded is one of five key mechanisms in determining the culture of an institution. It shows what is truly valued. Not only are stated values and rules important but also how they are acted on (Schein, 2778).

    Great comments. I hope you continue to provide me with the benefit of your experiences especially since you have a unique cultural vantage point.

    Works Cited:

    Air University Instruction 36-2308 Academic Freedom, 22 August 2008 (http://www.au.af.mil/msd/pubs/aui/aui36-2308.pdf).

    Danskine, Bruce Fall of the Fighter Generals: The Future of USAF Leadership, June 2001 (http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/saas/danskine.pdf).

    Schein, Edgar H, "Organizational Culture and Leadership" Kindle Edition Jossey-Bass, 2004.

    Yingling, Paul A Failure of Generalship, Armed Forces Journal, May 2007 (http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2007/05/2635198).