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AFIT's going to always be at risk
Posted: 09/20/2005 by AFIT Public Affairs

Dayton Daily News Editorial -- The base-closure process was hard to follow for a lot of Americans — even in communities like Dayton that have a major base and where some people know a few of the military's acronyms and its shorthand.

If you favor conspiracy theories, you might think the Pentagon likes it this way. After all, sometimes having a local community in the dark about the military's plans and ideas makes the brass' life easier.

During the Base Realignment and Closure process — BRAC, for short — Daytonians heard a lot about the Air Force's graduate school, which is at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. BRAC commissioners toyed with the idea of moving or even closing it.

When the debate was over, the school — known as the Air Force Institute of Technology — was kept alive. Its 500 faculty and 1,000 students are people the community very much wanted to hang on to.

Given that this was not the first effort to do away with AFIT, Dayton needs to assume that the threat of losing AFIT is always going to be there. After all, the oversight board that the BRAC commission created to watch over this school and the Navy's graduate school could one day conclude that one or both institutions aren't needed.

Many local people believe that AFIT and the Navy's school at Monterey, Calif., are working well together to save the military money and to create synergy that benefits both services. But that's what people in the trenches say — not necessarily what those who are far removed from the schools believe.

The critics have to be constantly watched. And they have to educated about AFIT's work to create value for the Air Force.

One way to bolster AFIT's presence here is to get the Dayton Area Graduate Studies Institute on the radar of the new oversight committee, the Pentagon and politicians in Washington. That institute brings together faculty and students from the University of Dayton, Wright State University, AFIT and other affiliated colleges so they can feed off of each other.

Also important is the fact that for a decade Ohio has been putting money into graduate-level scholarships for engineering and computer science students attending the institute's schools.

The goal is to make sure there's a critical mass of scholars working together — often doing research specifically for the Air Force. Ohio's financial support for this initiative has gone down from a high of almost $4 million in 2001 to just over a million dollars this year.

That sort of decline has been happening to everything related to higher education in the state. The trend doesn't help secure AFIT's place.

The new oversight board for AFIT and the Navy's school represents both an opportunity and a threat for Dayton.

It's a chance to get people who care about the Air Force's need for specialized scientists and researchers committed to AFIT's place at Wright-Patterson. Meanwhile, though, the new overseers will be in the know about whether Ohio, Dayton and local universities really are giving back to the Air Force as much as the community gets from having AFIT here.

AFIT's advocates can celebrate their recent victory. But their work won't ever really be done.

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