Mids bemoan unwanted attention Spate of charges has made life uneasy at Naval Academy

April 18, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron and Kris Antonelli | Thomas W. Waldron and Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

As two midshipmen walked to morning classes at the U.S. Naval Academy yesterday, they didn't like what they saw -- yet another television crew out to report on the problems that have buffeted the school the last several months.

"Oh, no, another TV camera," one midshipman muttered to his friend.

"Film this," he added quietly, making an obscene gesture with his hand as he walked behind the crew.

The spontaneous gesture reflected the dismay many at the Yard are feeling both about the attention and the recent spate of charges -- ranging from child sexual abuse and car theft to LSD sales and burglary -- against the men who are supposed to be the Navy's future leaders.

Yesterday, the academy went through its first full day on stand-down, an apparently unprecedented weeklong period for students and administrators to search for a solution to the school's problems.

Adm. Charles R. Larson, the academy superintendent, has ordered all midshipmen to meet in small groups during the next several days to come up with proposals.

"The pillars of leadership are responsibility and accountability," said Capt. Tom Jurkowsky, an academy spokesman. "Admiral Larson feels strongly that these midshipmen will soon be junior officers and they have to learn how to deal with these things."

The groups will provide written reports to their company officers, who will send the recommendations up the chain of command. By next week, the leaders of the student brigade are supposed to forward specific ideas to Admiral Larson.

Overwhelmed with media inquiries, the academy, for the first time in memory, declined to arrange for student leaders to meet with reporters. "The stand-down is not a publicity stunt," a

spokesman said.

The stand-down had little effect on the routine of most at the wind-swept academy yesterday. Classes took place as usual and tourists gathered in front of the massive Bancroft Hall dormitory to watch the midshipmen take part in their daily noontime formation.

But beneath the surface, the mood was clearly suffering from the barrage of downbeat news.

"I certainly wouldn't call the mood up-beat," said one junior, or second-class, midshipman. "We have gotten a lot of bad publicity, and that's to be expected, I guess.

"But this whole thing has been blown out of proportion by the media and the administration," he added. "The whole thing is perception."

A senior, who, like all students, agreed to be interviewed as long as his name wasn't published, said the stand-down was a distraction from graduation, only seven weeks away.

"This is not how I wanted my last year here to end," the midshipman said. "I just wish this would stop and let things get back to normal."

Some midshipmen complained that they are being punished for the actions of a few "bad apples."

"There are 4,000 people here and we represent a snapshot of society," said one senior. "No one is happy about the stand-down."

One plebe -- or freshman -- on his way to class said the recent problems were not what he expected when he arrived in Annapolis in June.

"But [Admiral Larson] is trying to get things back on track, and I still love it here," he said. "I don't think these things happen all the time."

James F. Barry, who teaches economics and leadership at the Naval Academy and recently wrote a newspaper column describing a "culture of hypocrisy" at the school, said midshipmen feel disenfranchised from a system in disrepair.

"Basically, it's a broken system and we reflect the Navy," Dr. Barry said. "We can't correct this from the inside. Someone from the outside has to come in and do it."

Pub Date: 4/18/96

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