Academy to become more like military
New chief wants more ship time, fewer distractions
By EARL KELLY, Staff Writer
Published August 19, 2007
The Naval Academy will become more like a military installation and less like a college, the school's new superintendent indicated Friday. In his first meeting with the media since becoming superintendent on June 8, Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler spoke of "a nation at war," and emphasized that the changes he is implementing are not a "we-need-to-fix" the academy but are instead "we-must-improve, or-we-will-fall-behind."
"We want fewer distractions and fewer excused absences from important developmental events like class and study hour," said Adm. Fowler, a former submarine commander and a 1978 graduate of the Naval Academy.
"This is not just a college scholarship program," Adm. Fowler said. "The taxpayers have paid money to develop officers here, and it's my job to ensure we minimize those distractions."
Henceforth, according to the superintendent, upperclassmen will have more required study hours and less free time away from the campus, or 'the yard,' as it's known in the military.
According to the commandant's office, which handles day-to-day operations at the academy, mandatory study period is being reinstated at nights, from Sunday through Thursday, for all midshipmen. Freshmen and sophomores will have mandatory study hour Friday nights as well.
Previously, midshipmen had mandatory study period from 8 p.m. to midnight, Sunday through Friday, but many sophomores and nearly all juniors and seniors were exempt.
A number of academy students have said they skip meals to study or do other chores, and upperclassmen often were in downtown Annapolis having dinner during the week. But that is about to change.
While previous regulations set aside only Wednesday evening for mandatory dinner for the entire student body, the new regs require that from Sunday evening to noon Friday, all mids eat all meals in the academy mess hall.
Another change is that seniors must wear the Navy's khaki uniform, to distinguish them from other midshipmen, who wear a dark blue utility uniform. Seniors will be expected to mentor and lead younger students.
And, so they can focus more on the basic requirements of becoming officers, midshipmen's extra curricular activities will be more limited - both in the kind of activities and the amount of activities.
Adm. Fowler spoke of "the privilege of serving as leaders of sailors and Marines who volunteered to serve their country during wartime." It is a theme he also expressed June 27, during Induction Day, when the Class of 2011 began their time at the academy.
Midshipmen need more real-world experience, Adm. Fowler said, and academy officials plan to revise summer training programs to get more mids onto ships or into Marine Corps units.
Adm. Fowler said he briefed the 4,400-member Brigade of Midshipmen on the changes on Thursday, their first day back from summer training.
To drive home his point, Adm. Fowler told the mids that the crew of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower recently spent more than 230 days at sea, with only 15 days in port.
That kind of environment is where seniors will be finding themselves in only nine months, Adm. Fowler said, and they need to start getting accustomed to it.
Navy Capt. Margaret Klein, the academy's commandant, could not attend the briefing Thursday, but issued a statement explaining the changes being made at the academy.
"We are a nation at war; we do not have the luxury of letting our midshipmen learn about life in the Fleet and Marine Corps once they get there," she wrote.
Adm. Fowler, the father of three teenagers, said he wants to "minimize distractions which are normal for people of that age."
"I know how easy it is to get distracted, and sometimes, given the choice between some tough mission-related activity and something that may be a little more relaxing but not related to the mission, my teenagers at home, and a lot of our midshipmen, may choose the easier path. We just don't have time to do that - our nation is at war, and our sailors and Marines are depending on them to be ready."
Adm. Fowler said he is implementing the new polices after consulting the academy's "senior leadership team" that includes Capt. Klein and the dean of admissions, the academic dean and the athletic director.
The changes, while purportedly to prepare the midshipmen for service, also may help keep some out of trouble.
Earlier this year, a group of midshipmen on a spring-break cruise became intoxicated and rowdy, and it came out during two recent court-martials for sexual misconduct that the alleged victims engaged in underage or binge drinking at area bars shortly before the incidents.
As a result of publicity generated by these events, Adm. Fowler's predecessor, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, faced criticism for allegedly punishing men more severely than women in cases of misconduct.
Adm. Fowler said he wasn't concerned about criticism, and would take it "case by case."
"I take the whole thing into account, and I really don't care about their background or gender or whatever," he said.
Adm. Fowler, formerly the Navy's chief recruiter, said he plans to work to recruit more minorities.
Adm. Fowler called the Naval Academy "the face of the Navy," and said its student body must become more diverse, to match the rank and file members of the military.
Adm. Fowler emphasized that any changes he is making at the academy are to prepare for the future, not to criticize the past administrations.
"There is no crisis at the academy," he said.