Academy leader nominated

Veteran submarine commander known for advocating diversity

March 18, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,[sun reporter]

President Bush has nominated a career submarine commander with a reputation for valuing diversity to be the next Naval Academy superintendent.

Rear Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, whose appointment must be confirmed by the Senate, would replace Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, who rankled alumni as he sought aggressively to make the school more accepting of women.

Rempt is expected to complete his four-year term as superintendent in the coming months.

Friends and classmates said Fowler, an avid hunter from North Dakota, would be well-suited to follow Rempt, praising his commitment to diversity in the Navy and his handling of difficult sexual assault problems while leading the Navy's recruiting command in Millington, Tenn.

"As things go wrong, as they sometimes do in the Navy family, the human side of him comes right out," said Master Chief Petty Officer Evelyn Banks, a senior enlisted adviser to Fowler in Tennessee. "He never failed to put the sailor first and would never make decisions about people's lives without considering the multiple consequences they could have."

Fowler, reached last night in Italy, where he is stationed, said he could not comment before his nomination was approved by the Senate.

An academy spokesman declined to comment about the nomination, which was announced with little fanfare Friday afternoon by the Defense Department.

A lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Fowler has the sort of international background that the Naval Academy values in the training of its students. He has deployed to the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic oceans, as well as the Arabian Gulf, and commanded a squadron of fast-attack, nuclear-powered subs.

Fowler has been in Naples, Italy, since July, working as the deputy director of the U.S. 6th Fleet in Europe and commander of allied submarine forces on the Mediterranean.

As superintendent, he will face a community of outspoken alumni, some of whom have harshly criticized Rempt, accusing him of being overzealous in the charges he brought against former Navy football quarterback Lamar S. Owens.

"A lot of alumni would like to see an effort to get back to the basics," said John Howland, a 1964 academy graduate who distributes news and manages a blog for a network of more than 500 alumni. "A lot of us see this past few years as being a pretty rough time for a whole bunch of reasons. I think a lot of alumni are really anxious to see a pretty sharp change in direction."

The discontent of graduates highlights the complex nature of the superintendent's job, one that deals with sometimes competing constituencies: an active and vocal alumni, a body of bright and sometimes mischievous midshipmen; parents; civilian faculty who don't always tow the line; the Pentagon; and Congress.

Banks said Fowler would have no problem handling the job. When she arrived at the Navy Recruiting Command in 2003, sailors were concerned about a number of sexual misconduct incidents. She said she could not elaborate on those, but she praised Fowler's handling of the situation.

"He created an environment where everybody felt respected," she said. "He made them know that every woman in the Navy is someone's mother, sister or daughter, and he stood up in training and openly talked about the things that were on people's mind, things that people didn't want to talk about."

Fowler, whose wife, Katie, and three children accompanied him to Italy, loves to cook, Banks said. His skill with the grill rivals that of the "White House chef," Banks said.

Fowler is said to care deeply about diversity in the Navy.

Richard Butler, a senior manager at Career Communications Group Inc., which helps corporations and government agencies forge diversity strategies, said Fowler's leadership at the recruiting command, and his commitment to seeking out and valuing women and minorities, exceeded what he had seen in the corporate world.

"What he was doing and helping the Navy to do was head and shoulders above what other organizations are doing," Butler said. "He created awareness of opportunities amongst minorities and demonstrated the value of women and minorities in the Navy, above what my corporate clients are doing. He's a great man that I truly respect."

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