Academy pay boost signals a truce Move helps to restore academic balance

May 29, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

When the academic dean of the Naval Academy announces pay raises for civilian professors today, he'll be helping to defuse a long-standing conflict between the school's military and civilian cultures that flared up a year ago.

Ever since the academy opened in 1845 with three civilian professors and four military professors, the so-called Athens vs. Sparta debate has simmered on campus over whether it is a training ground for Spartan warriors or an institution more suited to Athenian thinkers.

Last year, when a committee of the academy's board of visitors suggested a greater military presence by adding 30 military officers to the faculty and a new academic dean was recruited from the military, civilian professors feared something of an academic coup.

Now, as the school year closes and Adm. Charles R. Larson ends his four years as superintendent, both sides appear to be satisfied that recent changes in the faculty and curriculum have maintained a suitable military-academic balance.

"So far, we have not chosen between the two. We're saying we can have it all," said Craig Symonds, a history professor who has taught at the school for 22 years.

The pay raises are the most recent evidence of the truce. An agreement brokered by academic dean William C. Miller, Larson and the faculty was reached last month. Miller, a retired rear admiral and an academy graduate, is expected to tell department heads today of the agreement, which will increase by 20 percent the amount of money available for merit-based pay raises beginning in August.

For five years, pay raises for academy faculty members have lagged behind those at comparable schools, according to a study by the school's Faculty Senate. For much of that time, civilian professors conflicted sharply with Robert Shapiro, then the academic dean.

'Lucky to have jobs'

"He would just say we were lucky to have jobs and that sort of thing," said political science professor Charles Cochran, who conducted the Faculty Senate's pay study.

The new agreement "will go a long way toward relieving some of the unhappiness we've had," Cochran said.

Other professors and academy officials say the new pay scale, Miller's acceptance by the faculty, and the permanent military professor program have restored a belief that academic and military cultures can co-exist among the school's 4,000 officers in training.

The academy's faculty also seems more comfortable with the plan for permanent military professors. Such professors traditionally served for two or three years, then returned to the Navy.

Recruitment problems

For years, the academy has struggled to hire academically qualified military professors but had to hire civilians or Navy retirees to fill many of the spots designated for military officers. That created a dearth of Navy and Marine officers on campus.

"We were proud of our military-civilian mix and didn't want to abandon that," said Mike Halbig, associate dean for faculty. "But were having a rough time recruiting military professors into positions here. And it's a professional school like medical or law school. So you need the practitioners who've done the job students are being trained for."

As an incentive, officers will go to school to earn doctorates. In exchange, they will teach an additional eight to 10 years at the academy. The first four begin teaching this fall.

Symonds said of the military professor program, "I don't think that implies a retreat from the 50-50 split. I don't think there's been any kind of academic sacrifice to achieve that."

The school will maintain a ratio of seven students per professor and will still require at least 140 course credits to graduate, about 20 more than most colleges require.

Curriculum overhaul

Next will be a reconstruction of the curriculum.

After adding ethics, leadership and character development programs in the past three years, the school is poised to overhaul its curriculum, which Larson calls "one of the most important efforts we've had at the Naval Academy in a long time."

The overhaul is being based on interviews with top Navy officers to determine what academy graduates need to know once they become part of the fleet.

Among the changes being considered is increasing the academy's focus on technology and writing skills.

Pub Date: 5/29/98

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