Mikulski presses Naval Academy officials on harassment

September 21, 2005|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski yesterday questioned top U.S. Naval Academy leaders about why problems with sexual harassment have persisted at their institution despite numerous investigations and recommendations over the past 15 years.

"This seems like deja vu all over again," Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said at a meeting of the academy's Board of Visitors, a supervisory group made up of members of Congress and presidential appointees.

Citing a 1990 incident in which a woman midshipman was handcuffed to a urinal and photographed by male mids, Mikulski asked the academy to review how past recommendations have been implemented, and which attempts to make the academy a more hospitable place for women have worked better than others.

Mikulski, a member of the Board of Visitors, helped investigate the incident in 1991, the first such investigation into sexual harassment and assault at the nation's service academies. Women were first admitted to the Naval Academy in 1976.

Retired Gen. Charles C. Krulak, a former commandant of the Marine Corps who sits on the Board of Visitors, urged Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy's superintendent, to fix the problem.

"We are a nation at war right now, and women are dying and being wounded in action," Krulak said. "They are bleeding just like their comrades in arms. ... We need to knock off anything that will degrade their sacrifice."

Rempt said the Naval Academy has set up a committee to respond to each of 44 recommendations made by a Pentagon task force last month.

In a sharp critique, the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies found that the prevailing culture at the Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy creates an environment where sexual assault and harassment are more likely to occur.

"Hostile attitudes and inappropriate actions toward women, and the toleration of these by some cadets and midshipmen, continue to hinder the establishment of a safe and professional environment in which to prepare future military officers," the report said.

Capt. Jennetta White, the academy's sexual assault response coordinator, a position created in 2004, said the Naval Academy has responded to many of the recommendations, including increasing the number of women officers at the academy, establishing formal relationships with community law enforcement and health care centers and improving the level of confidentiality available to those who report sexual assault or harassment.

The Board of Visitors typically reviews policies at the academy, and yesterday's meeting included discussions about religious tolerance, alcohol use, summer leadership and training programs for midshipmen, improving foreign language training, admissions, attrition, fundraising and reviewing athletic department spending and programs. Details about prospective changes were sparse, because many proposals and reviews have not been completed.

Enhancing the foreign language abilities of midshipmen is a major priority, Academic Dean William Miller said, although the academy's goal for language instruction is to provide a foundation rather than any particular level of fluency. Academy language courses include French, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic, Chinese and Japanese.

More than 100 midshipmen went on four-week exchange programs all over the world this summer.

Dean of Admissions David Vetter told the board that applications to the academy have gone down from 8,800 last year to 8,400 this year, a decline of about 4.5 percent.

Miller said the academy is looking at the possibility of emphasizing recruitment more than application figures, and is considering how to "target the right 1,220" midshipmen.


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