The U.S. military's top service academies have been a source of national pride and some of the country's most distinguished leaders since West Point's founding in 1802. But have they grown out of date? Certainly criticism of the college-level institutions is nothing new, but Bruce Fleming goes much further than other critics in a New York Times column. He declares, "the Naval Academy, where I have been a professor for 23 years, has lost its way. The same is true of the other service academies. They are a net loss to the taxpayers who finance them, as well as a huge disappointment to their students, who come expecting reality to match reputation. They need to be fixed or abolished."

With the rise after World War II of the Reserve Officer Training Corps programs at universities around the country, the academies now produce 20 percent or less of the officers in each service, at an average cost to taxpayers of nearly half a million dollars per student, more than four times what an R.O.T.C.-trained officer costs. .

... A student can go to a civilian school like Vanderbilt, major in art history (which we don't offer), have the usual college social experience and nightlife (which we forbid), be commissioned through R.O.T.C. -- and apparently be just as good an officer as a Naval Academy product.

Fleming prescribes a few solutions:

We have two choices. One is to shut down Annapolis, West Point and the other academies, and to rely on R.O.T.C. to provide officers. Or we can embrace the level of excellence we once had and have largely abandoned. This means a single set of high standards for all students in admissions, discipline and academics. If that means downgrading our football team to Division III, so be it.

We also need a renaissance in our culture. We need to get our students on board with the program by explaining our goals and asking for feedback from cadets, graduates and the armed forces at large. Now, we're just frustrating the students and misleading taxpayers.