Naval Academy's review board seeks to define its mission Private-sector techniques adopted for evaluation

February 28, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

As it slowly defines its mission, a special committee reviewing staff, curriculum and character at the U.S. Naval Academy is dabbling with private-sector techniques to evaluate a military institution.

The board, comprising mostly active or retired military officers, has heard from a Manhattan management consultant who conducted a midshipman morale survey last fall. Members have quizzed midshipmen in focus groups on academy life. And the 20-member panel has divided into four departments, each with a different assignment.

At the same time, board members, who met privately yesterday for the second time, are debating whether their task is simply to restore public confidence in the elite academy after five years of cheating, drug, theft, and sex scandal headlines, or to remake the school for the next century.

The question is fundamental to the panel's work. It will make recommendations to the academy Board of Visitors in June.

Adm. Charles R. Larson, the academy's superintendent, asked the panel to give him "a sanity check" before its first meeting last month.

But some board members fear the recommendations may call for too much change at an academy that is not broken, only victim of a few bad midshipmen now washed out of the Navy.

"It's not a witch hunt," said Herbert Hetu, the board's spokesman. "These people have great affection for the academy. But it's not a whitewash either."

Beginning a daylong session, the board met for 90 minutes yesterday with David Sirotta, a New York business consultant with mostly corporate clients.

In September, Sirotta sent members of the second-, third-, and fourth-year classes a 250-question survey. An academy graduate paid for the survey. which has not been released to the public. People familiar with the findings say the survey showed high morale and loyalty among students, but some criticism of the front-line Naval officers supervising the 30 companies of midshipmen.

Already the review board's committee evaluating "professional development" has interviewed 18 of 30 company officers.

In addition, Larson has started a new recruiting program to attract more experienced officers. Most company officers have no more than four years of Navy experience -- "midshipmen in lieutenants' uniforms," according to one former officer.

Larson is trying to double the experience level by offering officers a chance to complete a master's degree in leadership during their first year at the academy. They would then serve as company officer for the remaining two years of a regular rotation.

The academy Board of Visitors, the equivalent of trustees at a nonmilitary university, created the review board in the fall. An academic, Goucher College President Dr. Judy Jolley Mohraz, and an officer, retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, were named to head the committee.

In addition to professional development, other groups are studying issues including admissions standards, intellectual rigor and midshipmen character.

One debate among the board members, nine of whom are academy graduates, is over curriculum.

Several board members, including Turner, fear the academy is not emphasizing intellectual achievement enough, while others argue that more vocational Naval and Marine officer training is receiving short shrift.

"It's an incredible balancing act that goes on here," said one source familiar with the discussion.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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