Ethics classes divide Naval Academy alumni, election

Some assail curriculum, vote for critic of program

April 30, 2000|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

After almost 10 weeks of fiery and bitter debate questioning the future of the Naval Academy and its recent emphasis on ethics training, the academy's alumni association rebuffed an internal attack on the school's programs and curriculum.

Last week, the association turned back a symbolic challenge to the re-election of the group's chairman by Charles C. Krulak, a graduate and former commandant of the Marine Corps who has called the school's ethics training programs "mumbo jumbo."

A group of alumni began promoting Krulak as a write-in candidate for the chairmanship to "send the academy a message." As the campaign flared with alumni calling, e-mailing and writing the association's leaders, Krulak wrote a letter to alumni saying that votes for him, though not binding, would serve as a "clarion call" to academy officials.

Write-in candidates are not permitted, and Krulak said he did not want the position but more than 200 alumni out of 6,500 voted for him.

The association prevailed, but the dispute has left bitter feelings among some alumni. It was a difficult moment for academy officials, who have credited the ethics courses with allowing the academy to put cheating scandals of the early 1990s behind the institution.

By the end of the year, the school plans to begin its largest fund drive ever, asking alumni to donate, in large part to ethics and leadership training programs.

"What surprised me was not that the alumni weighed in," said Ronald F. Marryott, president of the alumni group, "but how vociferously they weighed in without the full understanding of what's being taught at the academy. They should not be acting from a position of lack of knowledge."

While playing down the incident, academy spokesman Cmdr. Mike Brady said the school takes alumni seriously.

"The alumni are extremely important to this institution," Brady said. "They help in admissions, recruiting, maintaining public support. That's why we invest so much time communicating with them. We want to keep their support, and we are confident we do that with the vast majority of them."

The academy began putting an emphasis on ethics training after a series of scandals, including one in which more than 100 students were accused of cheating on an exam.

The program includes classes through all four years that teach students a philosophical approach to ethics, such as "Ethics and Moral Reasoning for the Naval Leader" and classroom discussions in which students debate how to handle ethical situations that may arise when graduates join the fleet as officers.

Academy officials say the training emphasizes how important honesty, leadership and good reasoning are in developing officers. The Naval Academy's training differs from the Air Force Academy's and West Point's in that monthly lunch seminars are presented by faculty members and the school brings in commanders from the fleet to present real-life problems to the students.

Krulak has criticized the program as placing too much emphasis on Freud, Kant and utilitarianism but being "short on straight talk."

Bernard A. Maguire, president of the Class of 1964, Krulak's class, said he knows that Krulak is not trying to "wreak havoc" on the group. He said he believes the academy has far more supporters than detractors.

The re-election of the alumni chairman, Leighton W. Smith, a retired admiral who graduated in 1962, and the election of the new board members will be announced at a meeting in May.

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