Air Force Academy's decision to keep cadet survey secret protested by 50 AFA backers
In recent years, Air Force Academy climate surveys, in which cadets and staffers are asked about AFA life, have been made publicly released. For 2010, though, AFA superintendent Mike Gould nixed that, saying the surveys are meant to be tools for improvement, not public fodder. But leaked data troubles Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein, as well as fifty AFA supporters, who wrote Weinstein asking that he urge Gould to reverse his decision.
Air Force Academy chapel.
A portion of the climate survey data was obtained by the Colorado Springs Independent's Pam Zubeck. Last week, she noted continuing complaints among the 40 percent of cadets who took part (53 percent of staffers weighed in, too). Respondents reported statistically significant discrimination, harassment and the like against females, homosexuals, bisexuals and racial minorities.
In addition, Zubeck wrote, "141 cadets said they have been subjected to unwanted religious proselytizing sometimes, often or very often. Another 212 said they had been once or twice."
Those are worrisome numbers to Weinstein, and he feels the Academy's decision not to release the surveys compounds the problem.
"I think it's a colossal public-relations gaffe," he says. "We believe the toothpaste has been squeezed out of the tube. Some of the bad stuff got leaked out, and it looks really bad."
Weinstein notes that "23 cadets said they live in fear of physical assault for religious reasons -- and thirteen of them were Christians." That makes sense, given the kinds of folks the MRFF serves. "We have 19,100 clients" from all branches of the military, the service academies, veterans, reservists and so on, "and 96 percent of them are Protestant or Catholic."
As for the 353 cadets who say they've been subjected to unwanted religious proselytizing," he says, "you've got to remember, they're from the 40 percent of the cadet wing who responded" -- implying that many others could be in the same situation.
In a release put forth in the wake of the CS Indy post, Weinstein acknowledged that these figures are far from encouraging. But he also expressed support for Gould, about whom he offers consistent praise, calling him "the best superintendent we've had at the Academy in decades."
Nonetheless, Weinstein says the decision to lock away the climate survey represents a "setback" in the progress the AFA has made when it comes to religious tolerance. "The data is malodorous," he maintains. "It stinks, and it can't be explained away. It's the tarantula on the wedding cake; it's very hard to tell the bride and groom to just ignore it. And the ramifications are already being seen."
Chief among them: A letter sent to Weinstein by fifty AFA faculty members, cadets, staffers and others, calling on him to personally beseech Gould to release the climate survey. Weinstein isn't sharing the names of the signees, but he offers reassurance that there are indeed fifty of them, and they all check out.
In recent days, Weinstein has also been receiving e-mails from other folks demanding Gould's resignation. He's not ready to go there. "I still believe he's the right person for the job," he says. "I just think he made the wrong decision. And I hope he makes the right one."
Page down to read the letter to Weinstein, as well as his statement from last week about the data published by the CS Indy: