A member of the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors has sued over Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suspending the board, claiming it prevented vital oversight, including over the potential introduction of critical race theory in the university curriculum.
The board is one of 42 Defense Department advisory committees that Mr. Austin suspended to consider their “continued utilization,” according to a Pentagon memorandum.
The Air Force Academy board or AFA BOV remains shut down despite passing Mr. Austin’s April 30 deadline to complete the review.
Board member Heidi Stirrup, who was appointed by then-President Trump in December, asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for an injunction to restore the board’s function.
In the lawsuit, Ms. Stirrup said that the board is nondiscretionary as a congressionally mandated oversight function and that the defense secretary does not have the authority to suspend its operation.
“Numerous specific legal requirements and duties of the AFA BOV and of the Defendants are being violated or unfulfilled because of the suspension of the operations of the AFA BOV,” said the complaint.
Of particular concern for Ms. Stirrup was that the board remained suspended amid growing concern about the military’s incorporation of critical race theory in training and reading lists at the service academies.
In March, Ms. Stirrup send an email to the Air Force Academy asking for information about its teaching on racial issues. She said a video had surfaced in which Air Force Academy football coaches appeared to publicly express support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
She also asked whether the academy was regulating social media posts by cadets and the standards for the academy’s review of extremism among cadets.
“I am similarly concerned about the content and tone of what the Air Force Academy teaches, allows and requires about race relations, and whether the Air Force Academy has caused or will cause teachings about race that promote hostility against a certain race by being discriminatory, hateful, toxic, accusatory, divisive, false/misleading, trafficking in racial stereotypes, and/or involving collective guilt, racial segregation and/or race-based harassment,” her email states.
Her request for information was denied by Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark. He cited the board‘s suspension in his reply.
Lt. Gen. Clark is also named as a defendant in the case.
The issues surrounding the military’s handling of race have since ballooned in Congress, with lawmakers peppering military leaders in defense budget hearings over more recent months with questions on military training and reading lists that incorporate critical race theory.
In June, Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, revealed several service member complaints while questioning Mr. Austin at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
“One Marine told us a military history training session was replaced with mandatory training on police brutality, White privilege, and systemic racism. He reported that several officers are now leaving his unit citing that training,” Mr. Cotton said. “Another service member told us that their unit was required to read ‘White Fragility’ by Robin DiAngelo, which claims ‘White people raised in Western society are conditioned in a White supremacist world view.’”
Mr. Cotton asked Mr. Austin whether he believes the military is fundamentally racist and whether service members should be treated differently based on race or sex. Mr. Austin answered no to both questions, and he said he welcomed service members to make complaints through their chain of command or the inspector general.
“I would also say that diversity, equity, and inclusion is important to this military now, and it will be important in the future,” Mr. Austin said. “And so we’re going to make sure that our military looks like America and that our leadership looks like what’s in the ranks of the military.”
Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican and former Army Special Forces officer, pressed Mr. Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley on the issue during this week’s Armed Services Committee hearing. Mr. Waltz said he received a letter from the superintendent of West Point who stated that West Point has a course that includes critical race theory and a seminar titled “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage.”
“I cannot think of anything more divisive and more destructive to unit morale,” Mr. Waltz said. “I want to be very clear, the military needs to be open to all Americans. Absolutely. That is the strength of the United States Military. But once we’re in, we bleed green and our skin color is camouflage. We’re worried about that American flag on our shoulder. That’s the only thing our enemies are worried about.”
Later in the hearing, Gen. Milley pushed back against the lawmakers for the compounding criticism.
“I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military — general officers, commissioned and noncommissioned officers — of being ‘woke’ or something because we’re studying some theories that are out there,” he said.
The general also said that it is important for service members to be open-minded, and to form a greater understanding of phenomena, such as “white rage,” that have led to events such as the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States? What caused that? I want to find out,” he said.
Earlier this month, an assistant professor of political science at the Air Force Academy published an op-ed in The Washington Post, further igniting outrage among some lawmakers and intensifying the debate about whether the controversial curriculum should be included in the military service academies.
In her article titled “I’m a professor at a U.S. Military Academy. Here’s why I teach critical race theory,” the professor, Lynne Chandler Garcia, said the curriculum was vital for cadets in shaping their understanding of racism, and how racism has shaped foreign and domestic policy. She also said that Gen. Milley’s “defense” of the curriculum during his testimony showed “that it is not unpatriotic to understand the fuller version of American history, nor does it promote division among military members.”
Some lawmakers were not convinced. Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican, whose district includes the Air Force Academy and who serves on the board of visitors along, said the op-ed raised serious concerns.
“This is in direct violation of the clearly expressed intent of the secretary of defense. As a member of the United States Air Force Academy’s Board of Visitors, I oppose teaching our cadets that the country they serve is fundamentally racist,” he said. “Critical race theory is an anti-American ideology rooted in Marxism and has no place in any of our service academies.”
Mr. Lamborn previously expressed concern over the secretary’s decision to cancel the board. In an open letter in June to Mr. Austin, he said the board was barred from completing its obligation to meet four times per year due to the suspension.
“This is unprecedented,” the letter reads. “As you know, each BOV has a statutory duty to inquire into the morale, discipline, social climate, curriculum and instruction, fiscal affairs, academic methods, and many other matters.”
The letter was co-signed by Mr. Waltz and Rep. Don Bacon, Nebraska Republican.
Ms. Stirrup claims that the academy has been without oversight amid other concerning developments on campus, including what she called “an unprecedentedly large number of cadet suicides.”
Other problems she cited were the academy’s resolution of a cheating scandal involving 200 alleged honor code violations and questions about whether cadets will be required to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
A representative from the Pentagon declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.