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.

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:

Statement Requesting MRFF Help At USAF Academy (USAFA)

Mr. Weinstein, we are a group of approximately 50 very concerned USAFA faculty members, upperclass cadets, other Academy staff (including the Superintendent's and Commandant's and Dir. of Athletic's staffs) and Academy permanent party (10 ABW etc.).

We are requesting the immediate intervention of The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) regarding the current debacle of the most recent Academy "Climate Survey" results. In past years, those important result have always been released to Academy personnel and the public/press for all to see. As you know, last Thursday, August 12, 2010, USAFA held a press conference to "announce" those results but did not release any supporting data as in all the past years. USAFA's "announcement" created a very positive image of the religious, racial and gender environments here at the Academy. Later that same day, reporter Pam Zubeck of the Colorado Springs Independent newspaper released a story which told a dramatically different tale. Her article stated data which she claimed had come directly from the unreleased "Climate Study" in question here. The data she reported directly contradicts he "message" which the Academy was attempting to convey at the press conference last Thursday. Ms. Zubeck's story contains some extremely troubling information apparently directly from the USAFA "Climate Study" itself regarding religious, racial and gender intolerance. To date, USAFA has refused to make any of this data, which somehow found its way to reporter Zubeck, available to anyone else, including all of us who live and work here at the Academy. We feel that the Academy's refusal to release this "Climate Study" data, coupled with the stark disparity between the "happy message" Academy press conference of last Thursday and Ms. Zubeck's "alarming message" article later that day makes our Academy look terribly guilty of trying to hide the entire truth of the matter, whatever that may be. Without seeing the results of the "Climate Study", no one knows what to believe? Why would the Academy choose this year to not release this data?

Thus, our group is officially asking MRFF to take a public stance and demand that the most recent "Climate Study" results be immediately released, as in all past years, to both the public/press and to all of us here who labor everyday at the Academy. We all deserve to see this critical data. We feel we deserve to see it for many obvious reasons. It's the right thing to do. It's the only thing to do. Mr. Weinstein, many of us attended your speech at the National Character and Leadership Symposium earlier this year. We know that you enjoy a positive relationship with USAFA Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Mike Gould. We ask you to speak to him on our behalf and on behalf of so many others for whom we, too, speak for here at the Academy. For what it's worth, our group includes individuals mostly from a Christian faith background but other faith traditions as well, including non religious individuals. We also represent people of color and people who have experienced gender and sexual orientation "issues" here at USAFA. We reach out to you and MRFF today because there is no other practical alternative.

Mikey Weinstein release:

The stunning statistics attendant to the "Climate Study" just now released by the United States Air Force Academy clearly reveal that the prestigious military Academy still has a very long way to go on the path to reaching even minimally-acceptable Constitutional compliance in several human rights areas - most notably, basic religious respect.

Frankly, the math is not very encouraging at all. Twenty-three Air Force Academy cadets (thirteen of them Christians) report living "in fear of their physical safety" and 353 cadets report having been subjected to unwanted religious proselytizing out of only 40% of the Cadet Wing (student body) that chose to respond. On the other hand, what IS quite encouraging is that MRFF is currently handling only eighteen active cases at the Air Force Academy (down from a high of well over a hundred in past years) and ALL of our MRFF clients currently report being satisfied with the manner in which their personal complaints are being handled within "the internal chain of command system"!

It has taken well over 6 years for MRFF and myself to be able to feel even remotely comfortable with the Academy's most senior leader and to have a genuine sense of mutual trust with same (emphasis on the word 'mutual'). As I've said publicly many times before when asked, progress at the Air Force Academy is going to be a 'crawl, walk, run' exercise. When MRFF started to fight this bloody Constitutional civil rights battle years ago now, the Academy environment for Constitutionally-mandated religious freedom could be fairly likened to 'Dodge City in the 1870's.' As this revelatory Climate Study reveals, it's not yet a utopian 'Mayberry.'

Admittedly, it is not going as fast as I would like to see yet, either qualitatively or quantitatively. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the good news is that we are well beyond the 'crawl' stage and into what I would call the 'moderately fast walk' stage. That is progress. MRFF fervently believes and sincerely hopes that, in the very near future, with excellent, Constitutionally-cognizant USAF senior leaders like Mike Gould (Superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy) at the helm, progress will soon start breaking into a 'sprint.' Obviously, we can't wait forever. If progress fails to accelerate in a reasonable time, MRFF will act accordingly and aggressively.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts