Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton has resigned as superintendent of the Naval Academy, stung by a Navy investigation that found that he had used "unlawful force" against a school guard and that his imperious leadership style had humiliated and demoralized the faculty and staff.
In a report released yesterday, the Naval Inspector General found that Naughton, a three-star admiral who took command a year ago, had grabbed a young Marine who asked for Naughton's ID at a school gate on New Year's Eve. The 65-page report also recounts a dozen encounters in which Naughton "embarrassed and humiliated subordinates through conduct that is inappropriate for a commander."
In one December meeting of the school's senior leaders, witnesses said Naughton shook his finger and menacingly ordered everyone to keep quiet about the school's decision to seize the computers of students caught illegally downloading pirated movies and music.
"If any of this gets out, I will kill you!" the report describes him as saying. "That's strategic guidance. I will kill you!"
The resignation, announced yesterday, makes Naughton one of the shortest-serving superintendents in the history of the 158-year-old college, and leaves the institution rudderless as more graduates are being drawn into the global campaign against terrorism.
Naughton's departure was greeted with relief and even jubilation by many academy faculty, who have been grumbling about what they said was a contemptuous and micromanaging style that left employees shaken and hurt.
Naughton's defenders describe the criticism as sour grapes over his aggressive efforts to contain spending at a time when bombs trump books in military budgets.
The Navy said that Naughton submitted his resignation to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark, the Navy's top officer, on Tuesday, telling his superiors that he felt the investigation's findings would impair his ability to lead the 4,000-student school.
"Over the past few months, too much attention has been focused by media and others on the superintendent," Naughton said in a brief statement issued through the academy yesterday. "Because of this attention, I have asked the [chief of naval operations] to reassign me elsewhere and to bring in new leadership that can take the academy where it needs to go. It has been a privilege to be the superintendent this past year."
Officials said Naughton, 56, a veteran aviator, plans to retire, capping a 35-year career in the Navy.
Clark praised Naughton as a "tireless leader and a war fighter who has made invaluable contributions to our Navy. While regretting the loss of this officer's service to our nation, I respect and agree with his decision to tender his resignation."
Charles S. Robb, a former senator who chairs the school's oversight panel, the Board of Visitors, said, "I appreciate the fact that Admiral Naughton chose to put the best interests of the Naval Academy first in resolving a very difficult matter."
Moore to step in
The Navy announced that Vice Adm. Charles W. Moore Jr., the deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics and a 1968 academy graduate, would serve as acting superintendent. A permanent replacement will likely be in place by the start of the academic year in mid-August, said Rear Adm. Stephen Pietropaoli, the Navy's chief spokesman.
Naughton graduated from the academy in 1968 and rose through the ranks to become the Navy's top trainer of fighter pilots. Before taking the helm as the academy's 57th superintendent last June 7, the veteran aviator commanded the USS New Orleans, the USS Enterprise, and the Naval Air and Strike Warfare Center.
He earned a reputation as an exacting boss who could tackle tough and sometimes unpopular assignments. But his temper and adversarial demeanor clashed with the academy's more democratic culture, where a superintendent must diplomatically balance the interests of faculty, students, parents, the Pentagon and Congress - all under the glare of the media and vocal alumni.
Naughton had big shoes to fill. His predecessor, Vice Adm. John R. Ryan, who led the academy for four years, had endeared himself to midshipmen and faculty, and was known around the Yard as "Grandpa Ryan."
The Navy's probe into Naughton's encounter with the Marine guard got under way in late February after an anonymous complaint was filed with the Naval Inspector General.
In its report, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Sun, the inspector general found that Naughton "assaulted" the Marine guard during the confrontation, at Gate 3.
According to witnesses, Naughton and two friends were returning from dinner in Annapolis when the guard asked for Naughton's ID, a routine request after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The city's streets were teeming with revelers that night, and guards were ordered to watch for people entering the gates for celebrations on campus.