Academy survey causes concern

Midshipmen's satisfaction reaches five-year low

officials blame timing

December 13, 2003|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

Student satisfaction with the Naval Academy is at a five-year low, and strain between male and female midshipmen is on the rise, according to an annual survey released yesterday by the military college.

The survey findings follow a tumultuous year that saw the resignation of an embattled superintendent, the demotion of a professor accused of plagiarism, and several high-profile allegations of sexual assault.

Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy superintendent, told the school's oversight board yesterday that he believed the school was generally on the right track. But he said that increased attention to sexual misconduct may have given students a dimmer view of male-female relations.

The survey troubled the school's Board of Visitors. Some members objected to the upbeat tone of the school official who presented the results yesterday.

"If I look at these charts, I'd say there's something going on here," Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes told school officials at the board's quarterly meeting at Annapolis. "There's a falling off."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, another board member, said: "This is something we really need to follow up on."

School officials cautioned that the survey's unusual timing this year - during a stressful exam week last month, rather than just after summer break - may have skewed the results. Officials had postponed the survey for three months so Rempt, who took command in August, could have a say in the survey design.

"We don't want to overreact to what simply may be the timing of the survey, rather than an actual problem," said Glenn F. Gottschalk, the school's director of institutional research, who presented the findings.

School officials said they were reviewing student comments on the survey to better grasp the results.

Midshipmen gave high marks to the academic program and the climate for racial minorities. But the anonymous Web-based survey of 2,817 sophomores, juniors and seniors found a drop in those expressing overall satisfaction with the school - 83 percent, down from 91 percent last year. And 88 percent said they would recommend the school to a friend, down from 95 percent. Those were the lowest figures since 1998.

Midshipmen also had a gloomier view of midlevel leaders, with 67 percent approving of the job performance of company officers, career Naval officers who help lead the student body. That is down from 80 percent last year.

The survey revealed a surge in both men and women who see the disciplinary system as anti-male, a possible reaction to the greater attention that military schools are paying to sexual assault after an Air Force Academy scandal this year.

The percentage of women who said they were satisfied with teamwork and cooperation between the sexes fell to 74 percent, from 87 percent a year ago. And higher numbers of men and women said they resented dating among midshipmen.

"We have emphasized sexual harassment prevention," Rempt said at the meeting. "What we're seeing is some of the brigade's reaction," including a growing sentiment that dating within the brigade "doesn't contribute to the professional environment."

For the first time in at least five years, the academy did not disclose survey data on how many midshipmen said they suffered sexual harassment, how many reported the harassment, and how many were happy or unhappy with the school's response.

It was a conspicuous omission at a time of heightened attention to sexual misconduct on military campuses.

"Some of the information was not fully assessed and thus not ready to be briefed to the Board of Visitors and provided in a public forum," said school spokesman Cmdr. Rod Gibbons.

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