Navy hopes to name new leader for academy by start of classes

Pool of candidates limited by custom, retirement rule

June 07, 2003|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

Navy officials say they will move quickly to find a new superintendent for the Naval Academy, hoping to restore stability to the service's showcase institution after Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton resigned this week amid charges of improper conduct. The goal, they said, is to have a permanent successor in place by the start of classes Aug. 20.

Already, influential alumni are lobbying the Pentagon for favorites, say officials close to the academy. Some want to install a first-ever Marine. Others are pressing for someone young and dynamic.

In an interview Thursday, Chief of Naval Operations Vern Clark brushed aside questions about whom the Navy had in mind. "I'm not going to get into speculation about who the nominee might be," he said.

The Navy on Wednesday named Vice Adm. Charles W. Moore Jr., the deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics and a 1968 alumnus, as acting superintendent.

Naughton, 56, stepped down Tuesday after a Navy investigation found he had used "unlawful force" in a New Year's Eve tussle with a Marine guard who had asked to see Naughton's ID. Investigators also concluded that Naughton had hurt morale at the school with a "confrontational and demeaning" leadership style that humiliated subordinates.

Though Naughton denies acting improperly, he told Pentagon officials that he was resigning because the charges would have impaired his ability to lead the 4,000-student military college.

Maryland U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, who is on the school's board of civilian overseers, said yesterday that Navy officials will look for a successor with the political instincts to navigate the school's many competing interests, from students and parents to Congress, the Pentagon and free-speaking alumni.

"The Naval Academy is a very public place -- it isn't like a ship or a platoon in combat," said Gilchrest, a Vietnam veteran and a member for the past decade of the school's Board of Visitors. "So you need someone that is going to be able to weave through that very complex maze of human nooks and crannies.

"There's a certain amount of humility that has to go along with it."

Theoretically, the Navy will be able to choose from among 70 rear admirals and 31 vice admirals. But that pool shrinks markedly if the Navy follows custom and considers only Annapolis graduates and those who have had a command at sea.

The pool will probably be even smaller because the campaign against terrorism has many top admirals at sea.

Another hurdle to finding ambitious senior officers is a 1999 law making the superintendent's post a "sunset tour," a last stop before retirement that frees its holder to focus on the school instead of the next career step.

Combat is a springboard to promotions, so the Navy may also face problems in finding two- and three-star admirals willing to abandon their shot at a fourth star. Gilchrest said yesterday that he was thinking about introducing legislation to reverse the 1999 law.

Traditionally, the chief of naval operations, the Navy's top officer, evaluates candidates for superintendent with the Navy secretary, who then makes a recommendation to the president. The Senate votes on the president's nominee.

Naughton's 361-day tenure makes him one of the shortest-serving superintendents since Navy Secretary George Bancroft founded the officer-training school on the banks of the Severn River in 1845. Naughton, a veteran aviator and 1968 graduate, plans to retire, the Navy says.

When Naughton took command a year ago as the school's 57th superintendent, Pentagon officials directed him to focus on two issues that seemed bound to rattle the school's old guard: tightening the budget and "faculty realignment," which has meant a hiring freeze and in some cases a heavier teaching load, professors have said.

Whether another superintendent can pursue the same goals with less backlash remains to be seen.

The upheaval of the past week has raised another long-simmering issue: Whether a Marine should be named superintendent.

Several sources close to the Board of Visitors, the school's oversight panel, said that retired Gen. Charles C. Krulak, the former Marine Corps commandant, has been agitating for a Marine.

In an interview this week Krulak, a 1964 graduate, denied such talk. "Swear on a stack of Bibles," he said in a telephone interview. "Anybody who says I have a hang-up about having a Marine there is all wet. That is a decision for the secretary of the Navy."

Sun staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

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