Panel faults academy discipline

October 09, 1990|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- A breakdown in discipline at the Naval Academy contributes to an environment conducive to sexual harassment and discrimination, a civilian panel investigating the school reported today.

The report by the academy's Board of Visitors' committee said cases of sexual harassment should be dealt with "very severely," and it advocated placing more women in leadership roles and lengthening the superintendent's term to a minimum of five years.

Although the academy is committed in principle to equality, it should improve the integration of women at the Annapolis institution, the report said.

"There can be no question that women as of yet have not been fully assimilated into the academy," said Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, a panel member. "We live in the 1990s and not the 1890s, and we can no longer tolerate patronizing condescension toward women."

Bentley sat on the Naval Academy Board of Visitors' Special Committee on Women's Issues, which was formed last May in the wake of a female midshipman's claim that she was sexually harassed.

The midshipman, Gwen Dreyer, 19, said she was handcuffed to a urinal last December and taunted while male classmates took photographs of her. Dreyer resigned at the end of the school year, saying academy officials had failed to take the incident seriously enough.

Her story thrust the 145-year-old school and its practices into the national spotlight. Other women and Hispanics followed her with their own tales of mistreatment at the academy.

Navy and congressional leaders soon began a half-dozen investigations into those allegations and reports of academic problems in the electrical engineering department. Those problems include possible cheating after a break-in at a professor's office.

The team formed by the Navy inspector general, Rear Adm. Ming Chang, interviewed several hundred midshipmen in late spring. It found that half of the female midshipmen and almost a third of the male students believe sexual harassment is a serious problem at Annapolis.

Based on those findings, Vice Adm. Mike Boorda, deputy chief of naval operations for manpower and training, started another investigation focusing on the conduct and honor systems in July.

Besides Bentley, other committee members were chairman Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., Fitzgerald Bemiss and James Cannon.

Rear Adm. Virgil L. Hill Jr., academy superintendent, said 96 of the 124 recommendations already have been implemented. Hill pledged to improve the attitudes of male midshipmen toward women in the Navy and to treat sexual harassment with "zero tolerance."

He toughened the penalties for hazing in late May, saying that upperclassmen who physically harass plebes would face dismissal. He also prohibited horseplay between midshipmen unless all are willing participants.

In July, the academy began offering a more in-depth program of educating midshipmen about sexual harassment and equal opportunity for minorities.

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