The Naval Academy superintendent, recently under fire over an off-the-books "slush fund," will be forced out of his position a month earlier than expected, officials said Tuesday, as the military also overturned his recommendations that two students be expelled.
Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler had planned to retire in September after three years at the academy's helm, but the chief of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, directed an exit by the first week in August, saying it would "better position the Naval Academy for success in the upcoming year," according to a Navy spokesman.
The Navy also determined that there had been "inconsistencies" in the application of the academy's honor code involving seven Midshipmen alleged to have committed a violation, including two football players. Officials said recommendations by Fowler to expel two Midshipmen had been overruled and the students would be offered the opportunity to return.
W. Scott Hannon, a Baltimore attorney who said he was representing one of the students whose suspension was overturned, cheered the reversal, which he described as extremely rare.
"To not go along with the recommendations is almost unprecedented," said Hannon, a former Marine officer. "It speaks to a lack of confidence by the secretary that this study was even conducted in the first place."
Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Naval Academy spokesman, said in a statement that Naval Academy leadership was "reviewing the findings of this recent report and will comply with Navy-directed corrective action."
Rear Adm. Denny Moynihan, the spokesman, played down the significance of Fowler's accelerated departure, noting that his successor, Rear Adm. Michael Miller, has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate and is available to assume control. A jump start would allow Miller to "shape corrective actions" related to recent reviews of the academy's programs and policies, he said. A change-of-command ceremony is slated for the first week in August.
But the decision comes two weeks after the release of a 110-page report by the Office of the Naval Inspector General, which found football bowl game sponsorship money had been placed into an off-the-books account and spent on "invitation-only" tailgate parties, catered receptions and gifts for coaches. The report concluded that the expenditures, some of them "extravagant and wasteful," did nothing for the intended beneficiaries: the academy's midshipmen.
Though it was completed in November, the report was released just last month in response to a Public Information Act request by the Navy Times.
The report's outcome "was a factor" in Fowler's pending retirement, Moynhian said, though he noted that Fowler made no financial gain. The report said there was no evidence he was "specifically aware of any of the improprieties related to the actions of his subordinates in this matter."
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus asked Roughead on June 11 to review the academy's honor code procedures after becoming aware of possible inconsistencies in the adjudication of violations. The review examined the adjudication of 27 Midshipmen who allegedly violated the code during the 2009-2010 academic year.
Roughead's report scrutinized eight cases and found that the disciplinary decisions were "within the authority and discretion" of the superintendent and commandant. But he said that there were "inconsistencies and therefore understandable perceptions of disparate treatment," with consideration given to factors including a Midshipman's status as a foreign national student, varsity football player or as a child of a senior officer.
The report redacts the name of the students but goes into some detail about their alleged violations, including one involving a Midshipman who created an elaborate series of lies regarding the death of her fiancé and another friend.
Two cases involved football players; in one, a player committed at least three violations in one month but was retained and offered remediation based on the commandant's determination that alcohol was the root cause of the violation. After a subsequent alcohol-related incident, the player was dismissed.
In another case, Fowler recommended remediation for a varsity football player "despite numerous previous academic, conduct, and honor issues, and the recommendation of the entire chain of command to separate." Fowler included a "subjective" assessment of his personal development and support from his coach and retired senior officers in deciding to dispose of the violation.
The review did not determine that gender, race or ethnicity played a part in the disparities.
Hannon said his client, whom he declined to identify, was "not proud of his violation" but spoke of others who committed more serious infractions and were not disciplined. His incident occurred in February, and he was kept in a remediation program until two weeks before graduation, when he was recommended for expulsion.