by Pam Zubeck
In reading last night's blog about the Dean's address to faculty, I would like to point out a couple of items that are not completely accurate based on what he said (knowing you heard about this from those who were in attendance and also from the MRFF):
First, the discussion was about religion in general, not Christianity. Second, General Armacost never said one should never announce their faith in class because there may be cases where it might be appropriate for academic dialogue; his discussion was specific to the "first day of class." scenario.
Today I witnessed what I can only describe as the USAFA's February Miracle—or Hell Freezing Over, given the snowfall and plunging temps we're seeing. Today, BG Andy Armacost, Dean of the Faculty, during an address to the entire Faculty, addressed religious discrimination within the military in certainly the most direct, clear, and concise terms I've heard by any senior leader since the publication of AFI1-1. Frankly, I'm still in (pleasant) shock and think that you'll hear from others, too, once the shock starts to wear off. Here's how it all transpired...
The entire faculty was in our largest lecture hall, F-1, during a twice per semester "Dean's Call." After presenting awards and other typical duties, he began to discuss the recently released result of the unit climate survey within the faculty. After going over several positives, he said that he wanted to address specifically some of the negatives cited in the responses and written comments. The third topic on his list was religious discrimination. He said that 3.4% (or something like that) cited religious discrimination as something that negatively affected the climate on the faculty. He then added that written comments on the subject represented both sides of the issue, with some writing that it "wasn't easy being Jewish" on the faculty, or that they didn't feel comfortable identifying themselves as non-christian. Others thought that their rights to express their christian faith openly were being chilled by recent directives. He discussed those point for a few seconds and then described a question that was posed to him during new instructor training (during early Jan or last summer, I don't know when). Apparently, an instructor asked if he/she was allowed, during their self-introduction to their cadets on the first day of class, to cite their christian faith as an important aspect of their lives.
Gen Armacost said that we all had an obligation to get to know our cadets and our colleagues and to establish relationships that strengthen our institution BUT, and he said this quite clearly, the instructor should NOT announce their religious belief in class, to people he/she did not know, to people she/he had just met, to people over whom the instructor had a power relationship because no cadet or subordinate should ever have even the slightest concern that his/her religious (or other) personal belief could be a basis for judging them in the classroom—and he added race, sexual orientation, and gender to this, too. I almost gasped in delight.
He then said that everyone had a personal right to practice their personal religion so long as it did not affect their job or mission and that he respected everyone's personal beliefs. He said that in the holiday's he greats his friends that he knows are christian by saying 'Merry Christmas,' he says 'Happy Hannukah' to his jewish friends, and 'Eid Mubarrak' to his muslim friends. To the friends he knows are atheist, he says 'Have a good break.' To everyone else whom he doesn't know so well, he say 'Happy Holidays' or something non-sectarian.
THEN, he actually read from AFI1-1 verbatim including the lines about not proselytizing and the importance of the Air Force not showing favoritism or endorsement for one belief system over another. I was almost giddy at this point. FINALLY, someone with the guts to publicly say what's been documented, signed, and published (if not read aloud) by Air Force leadership. Clear guidance that it's NOT okay within the military hierarchy to bring your religion (or declare your lack thereof) in the classroom or the department office. Clearly, this is in response to the near constant pressure exerted by the MRFF over the last few years with the myriad violations of AFI1-1 we've seen at the Academy—before and even after it was published. Clearly, he was separating himself from his predecessor who went so far (according to reports) as tasking one of her senior leaders to conduct a counter-insurgency analysis within the faculty of MRFF supporters, and (earlier in her career) even put her name on a public advertisement in the base paper (with her rank included) declaring the "real" meaning of Christmas and inviting all to the christian faith.
He also announced the formation of a new Ombuds program on the faculty that will help resolve issues like this (among others) without using the chain of command or endangering the careers of faculty members and cadets—a great step towards building trust.
This was a watershed day for our Faculty, in my humble opinion. We can thank the MRFF and all of the hundreds of MRFF clients (cadets and faculty) at USAFA that have played a role in this day coming, as we thank Gen Armacost for his brave words. I'm sure he knows that the knives will be coming out for him soon, too. In the meantime, though, I hope this "bug" he's caught turns into a full-fledged virus of courage and we can hear similar words of support for all airmen from our other senior leaders.
A Senior USAFA Faculty Member