Academy may seek more funds for food

December 11, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,SUN REPORTER

The Naval Academy may ask the Department of Defense for more money to better feed midshipmen after being beset in September with complaints from students about both poor food quality and a brief shortage, officials said in a meeting yesterday.

Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, the academy's superintendent, who this semester increased the number of meals that midshipmen must eat in the dining hall from six a week to 15, said more funding is a long-term key to solving the problem. The Pentagon allocates $6.95 per midshipman per day.

"We're pretty close to asking for [more money]," Fowler said in response to a question from a member of the academy's Board of Visitors, an oversight panel of civilians, lawmakers and retired military officials.

The food problems were first reported by The Sun in August.

The board discussed a number of other issues at the academy with school leaders, including:

The results of a number of programs dealing with sexual assault and alcohol abuse.

A new Defense Department policy that could require a few dozen students a year to major in technical disciplines like engineering.

Efforts to increase student diversity.

The departure last weekend of Navy football coach Paul Johnson, who took the head coaching job at Georgia Tech.

While he praised Navy's high graduation rate for student athletes, particularly among African-Americans, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a board member, asked Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk whether Johnson left because of a low salary.

Gladchuk told the Maryland Democrat that Johnson "took a pay cut" to leave Navy. Johnson's salary exceeded $1 million a year.

"He wanted to compete in an arena where he can be a national champion," Gladchuk said. "But sir, you can be absolutely confident that it had nothing to do with resources."

Capt. Margaret Klein, the academy commandant - a position similar to that of dean of students at a civilian college - said school officials have begun to educate students about drinking by treating them to a dinner on their 21st birthdays with enough alcohol to put them over the legal limit.

Midshipmen are learning they can reach a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level - the legal threshold of drunkenness in Maryland - faster than they realized, she said.

"The resounding feedback I've had is that most midshipmen had no idea how few drinks it takes to get them to that .08 limit," she said.

Klein also told board members that the academy brought in representatives from the Navy's food management team to evaluate the meals. The team urged the academy to hire more workers, which it has done. The academy also has scaled back on a catering service whose employees are now dedicated to midshipmen food services.

"I feel confident that we are not sacrificing quality," Klein said.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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