Mids' survey reflects change

Naval Academy students find school to be kinder

9 of 10 say they are satisfied

Many say athletes receive preferential treatment

September 21, 2002|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

The Naval Academy is a kinder, safer and more civil place than it was a half-decade ago, and female and minority midshipmen feel more at home there than did their counterparts in the late 1990s, according to an annual survey of midshipmen released by the military college yesterday.

The survey of nearly 3,000 sophomores, juniors and seniors suggests that the school's campaign to teach students manners, toss out vestiges of hazing, and nourish a climate of respect for human dignity is changing perceptions at a school long famous for its macho, sink-or-swim culture.

The anonymous survey, which students completed on the Internet last month, shows a greater feeling of security and belonging among women and minorities and a declining sense that athletes who break academy rules receive more lenient discipline than other students.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, the last name of the Naval Academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton, was misspelled in some editions yesterday.
The Sun regrets the error.

The share of midshipmen who said they were sexually harassed in the preceding year fell to 5 percent, from 16 percent in 1997. The number reporting racial or ethnic discrimination fell to 10 percent, from 16 percent.

Even so, about four of five of those who identified themselves as victims did not report the harassment and discrimination - a statistic that troubled members of the academy's oversight panel yesterday and that academy leaders attributed to a reluctance among the close-knit student body to tattle.

"It's loyalty to shipmates," Vice Adm. Richard J. Naught, superintendent of the Naval Academy, told the school's Board of Visitors yesterday at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where the survey results were presented.

The perception that the disciplinary system is biased in favor of athletes remains high - 40 percent of nonathletes see it that way. But that number is down steeply from 2000, when 64 percent of nonathletes held that opinion.

Varsity athletes at Annapolis eat at their own tables in the mess hall, and are excused from marches during athletic season. Over the years, the academy has had to answer accusations of a double standard of discipline for athletes.

"There's been a big effort by [Commandant Col. John R. Allen] to get rid of the perception that athletes are treated differently," said Glenn F. Gottschalk, who oversaw the survey as the academy's research director.

Allen, named commandant in January, holds a position akin to dean of students at a civilian college and has declared an end to rituals, such as yelling at underclassmen, that he believes strip students of their dignity.

Though nine in 10 midshipmen said they were satisfied with the academy as a whole, the survey found a few pockets of discontent.

Thirty-seven percent felt that the academy's approach to discipline for violations of the honor code was inconsistent, up from 32 percent last year. Black students were eight times more likely than white students - and twice as likely as minorities overall - to see the disciplinary system as biased.

In other business yesterday, academy officials said that Congress was ironing out kinks in legislation to boost the size of the student body from 4,000 to 4,400 but that the measure was on track to pass.

Also, academy officials said that the school had turned over records to the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, for an inquiry into the country's military service academies.

Lawmakers had requested the inquiry after disclosures that the Air Force Academy, in Colorado, was holding many recruited athletes to lower admission standards than others.

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