In 2016, the leadership at the Department of Transportation and MARAD, in concert with the leadership at the United States Merchant Marine Academy cancelled, without any notice, the Academy’s mission-critical Sea Year aboard military-capable commercial ships based upon anecdotal claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment (“SASH”) at sea. As we came to learn, this was actually a diversion: The Academy leadership was coming under fire by the organization that accredits it as well as the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General for its woeful failure to implement programs designed to address SASH on campus.
As people questioned the purely anecdotal (and undocumented) “data” that the Department of Transportation and MARAD relied upon to justify the cancellation, the government developed a “we-know-better-than-you attitude and circled the wagons. On the infrequent occasions when MARAD or the Academy deigned to communicate with key stakeholders such as the midshipmen, their parents, alumni, and the industry, they made false statements thinking that they could get away with them.
With the government clamming up, Kings Point Sentry was created in July 2016 to provide a reliable source of information about what was happening with Sea Year. For the next two years, we ferreted out information, documented it, and publicized it. Eventually, we became the “go to” source for all things Sea Year because we were scrupulous in our reporting and put the supporting documentation on the website as well. This blog was regularly read at MARAD, DOT, the Academy and in the halls of Congress.
It’s now 2022 and Sea Year is cancelled again. This time it is due to a horrific sexual assault on a female midshipman. Once again, DOT and MARAD have circled the wagons and are making false statements about Sea Year to Congress, midshipmen, parents, alumni, and the industry. But the solution to SASH in any industry is not to ban, temporarily or otherwise, the victims and potential victims from the industry. Once again, Kings Point Sentry will fill the void, hold DOT and MARAD to the truth, and provide a voice for the Academy’s midshipmen.
Good idea !
This is a forum that is long overdue.
To: Andy and the others who created and keep this website active – Bravo Zulu! A forum like this is much needed, particularly during times when trust in Academy leadership is in the tank. Thank you for your efforts and for this resource.
Fabulous website and support for KP.
Keep up the great work!
I wanted to share the below post about USNA and “the other” service academies. I believe KP shares many of the same attributes as USNA and have some unique ones as well. Our budget of $99MM means we are right in line of $100k/student/yr. I always hear about the six state schools doing what KP does for a lot less, this may help counter that argument and help frame a more inclusive approach to maritime education rather than KP vs state schools.
By CAPT Tate Westbrook, USN
This is a response to Bruce Fleming’s article published on salon.com on 7 March. His article was titled in the hyberbolic terms and vernacular one does not normally expect from college professors: “Let’s get rid of Annapolis: Our military academies screw taxpayers and the students — and serve only the powerful brass.”
I am writing from aboard the Sixth Fleet flagship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), steaming in the Adriatic Sea. Despite submitting this rebuttal to the editors of salon.com soon after Fleming’s article was published, they have refused to print my response. Many thanks to the U.S. Naval Institute Editors for including in here.
In response, I offer your readers an alternative to Mr. Fleming’s rant: the perspective of that of a U.S. Navy Captain, at the point of 23 years of active duty service. I am a Surface Warfare Officer, which means that during my numerous tours of duty at-sea I drive warships and lead the teams of great Americans who serve in these vessels. Leading the crew of every Navy ship is the small cadre of commissioned officers charged with developing, training, and managing the current and future operations of ship and crew. Approximately one third of these officers began their careers one hot summer in Annapolis as new Naval Academy Midshipmen. As any number of the leadership classics written by democratic statesmen or capitalist magnates explain: peak-performing teams require bold, qualified leaders. In the military, we call them officers, and the U.S. Naval Academy produces some of the best.
150701-N-TO519-191As part of Samuel Huntington’s 1950’s classic The Soldier and the State, he presented his readers with the seminal treatise on military officers. He wrote that though there are many vocations and jobs that are beneficial to society, he defined four as the only true professions: law, medicine, clergy, and military officership. Huntington identified three key principles required to meet his definition which serve to bind these professions to their respective duties: expertise, responsibility, and ‘corporateness’. His essay, a subset of the larger tome, is a quick read and I encourage your readers to examine it in detail. But here I will quickly attempt to paraphrase Huntington’s key tenets:
Expertise: The inherent professional education and experience that separates professionals from laymen, which can only be instilled initially by institutions of research, history, and education. This expertise is perpetuated between the academic and practical sides of a profession through professional writing, journals, conferences, and the circulation of personnel between practice and teaching.
Responsibility: Governed by a canon of ethics, empowered by law with authority—but also regulated by the State, with an auditable process for promotion and certification by qualified peers. And in the case of military officers: sworn by oath to serve the fundamental foundation of our nation’s laws. He noted that responsibilities of commissioned military officers, unlike any of their civilian professional counterparts, includes the “management of violence.” This responsibility does not include the authority to start the next war, but rather depends on the intellectual skill borne of near-continuous study throughout a career, to ensure that, if possible, the officer’s actions may avoid the next conflict.
Corporateness: Empowered by custom, history, and collective discipline of the group, professionals engender the trust that society places on them through the self-regulation of their members. An officer’s commission is the legal right to practice his or her profession, just as the license to practice applies to a physician. Through a combination of professional associations and an efficient bureaucracy, the integrity of the commission is maintained, and levels of competence are rewarded over time through the promotion of the best and fully qualified.
Mr. Fleming’s narrative misses the point that institutions like Annapolis, our nation’s other esteemed Service academies, and the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) units across the country’s university system, are the crucible of the cultural indoctrination and education in which the principles above are imbued.
I will attempt to provide the “proof” that his article demands:
I consider myself uniquely qualified to respond to his article, since I am independent of any of the forces of nepotism which he alleges. I have no children nor relatives enrolled at any service academy, past or present. I was not educated at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), but was a 4-year Navy scholarship student at a respected private institution, Tulane University. I entered that program following three years of high school as a scholarship student at a small private school in Tennessee, where I washed dishes every day after lunch to fund my tuition and academic aspirations—there was no “brass” supporting my college plans. When I applied to the Navy for educational opportunities, I received the offer of both an ROTC scholarship and was also accepted to Annapolis. Absent the nepotism Mr. Fleming suggests, I was offered these options based on my own academic merit, not due to any connections with USNA alumni, siblings, or school administrators. My ultimate decision to attend Tulane ensures that today I write not from a position as a USNA alumnus, but as an independent observer unaffected by Fleming’s allegations of the hush-culture of a “henhouse guarded by foxes” (his terms).
I am also qualified to respond to the numerous fiscal errors in his article, since I periodically have served tours of duty ashore as a Navy budget officer when I have rotated ashore between sea duty assignments. A level-3 certified defense comptroller, I am intimately familiar with the financial analysis required to run the United States Navy, which if it were a for-profit business would rank #9 on the Fortune 100 based on annual budget and overall manpower. I have done cost-benefit analysis of nearly every aspect of naval service, including the fully-burdened cost of education and training of officers and enlisted personnel. The only “smoke and mirrors” (his term) on this topic are the specious sound bites he presented as fact to his readers regarding return-on-investment for the education of the seed corn of our professional officer corps.
As with all statistical analysis, charlatans can use samples of data to suit their needs. For example, “9 out of 10 doctors surveyed prefer this product . . . ” can be misleading if an advertiser gets to pick which group of ten doctors out of a much larger survey group to meet their needs. Similarly, Mr. Fleming’s misleading figure of “fewer than one in five” officers in the Navy graduated from Annapolis is a selective manipulation of the facts to fabricate a dramatic sound bite. In fact, the Annapolis-trained portion of the total number of ALL officers serving in the Navy, including reservists, officers of the restricted line (the support branches), staff corps, doctors, lawyers, dentists, professional engineers, and the prior-enlisted technical leaders of the Limited Duty Officer/Warrant Officer “Mustang” corps represent close to that smaller slice of the overall pie chart.
However, the express charter of the Service Academies is to primarily train officers for service in the Unrestricted Line (URL). Unrestricted Line Officers are those trained to aspire for command of ships, submarines, aviation squadrons, special warfare commands, and other units of combat arms. The U.S. Naval Academy provides approximately 1/3 of the graduates for each of these communities. A very small number of Annapolis officers graduate annually with commissions into the staff corps communities, primarily due to being unqualified for the URL billets for medical reasons.
Within my own community of Surface Warfare:
◾29% of my peers who serve in ships were Annapolis graduates,
◾35% from ROTC,
◾26% from Officer Candidate School (OCS),
◾6% from enlisted-to-commission programs,
◾4% from all other sources.
Annual officer accessions vary slightly by graduating year, community choice, and the needs of the Navy, but the approximate 1/3 USNA and 1/3 ROTC share of commissioned officer average remain consistent year after year within the URL.
150917-N-ZZ999-023The seventy-seven Navy ROTC units, comprised of students from 156 universities across the country produce the largest volume of annual accessions as noted above. Depending on the commissioning university, the cost of the tuition alone exceeds the tuition equivalent at Annapolis, including all of the essential costs that Mr. Fleming believes are frivolous, to include room, board, and medical coverage. An “apples to apples” cost comparison is avoided in Mr. Fleming’s article, in which he provided a fully-burdened cost per student . . . not the same as tuition cost. His estimate, like a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, utilizes the Naval Academy’s annual budget appropriated by Congress to operate and maintain the U.S. Naval Academy, and divides that figure by the total student body to derive a cost-per-student of nearly $400,000 from recruitment through graduation, or almost $100,000 per-student/per-year.
This figure seems outrageous, but when compared to a fully-burdened cost of state universities and private universities, which are funded from a combination of state taxes (state schools only), multimillion dollar endowments, and income from research and sports contracts, the total cost to educate of nearly $100,000 per-student/per-year is right in line with upper-tier institutions.
For example, at my own alma mater, the cost of annual tuition, room, board, and medical insurance is priced at $66,700 per year in the 2016-2017 academic year catalog. Tulane University’s audited financial statement reflects annual non-tuition “operating income” from endowments, gifts, grants, research, and other contracts at over $520 million per year. With minor exceptions (specifically, insurance and interest on debt) Tulane and other universities spend their annual expenditures on the same sort of expenses that the Naval Academy executes in their annual outlays mentioned in Fleming’s article, daily operations of the university, maintaining facilities including prestigious on-campus historic homes for their most senior educators, grounds keeping, staff salaries, etc. When the $520 million operating income is divided by Tulane’s total full-time student enrollment of 13,449 students this year (undergrad and graduate), the per-student costs borne by the university is $38,664.
Adding the university-paid share to the student-paid cost of tuition and fees, the fully-burdened cost of a Tulane education costs over $105,000 per-student/per-year, exceeding total annual costs per student at the USNA.
I did not include the data from Tulane above to “toot the horn” of my own institution, nor to show the inflation-adjusted value of my own degree. I chose Tulane because it is a fair comparison to the Naval Academy’s undergraduate programs by metrics of student selectivity, demographic diversity, average SAT scores, academic attrition rate, and even overall varsity sports performance. Additionally, like Tulane, much of the Naval Academy’s extracurricular activities for students and much of the sports activities are provided by active alumni associations funded solely through the donations of their members. Even the sports performance of both schools is on par and is merely average to above-average in most categories based on respective conference records (with a few shining exceptions in some years). My apologies to both Green Wave and Naval Academy sports fans out there, but this similarity is a testament to both institutions whose primary focus is on academics and the insistence that the student remain priority in all of their “student-athletes”.
Based on these facts, taxpayers who fund the U.S. Naval Academy’s annual budget are getting their money’s worth: Annapolis graduates receive a comparable upper-tier private university education, and at a comparable cost.
The ultimate question of value and return-on-investment is that at the Naval Academy, the product is so much more than merely a bachelor’s degree; Annapolis builds leaders. The “proof” of leadership that Fleming demands, for which fortunately there is no classroom test, can only be borne by the time-tested observations of naval history, by by the current observations of my peers, and by the Sailors we lead.
The real measure of leadership, and the inestimable value of what the Annapolis graduate receives during four years, is as much a product of the naval activities performed outside of the classroom environment as it is in the academic rigors. As Samuel Huntington’s tenet of “expertise” requires, the institution’s training and cultural indoctrination is primarily led by naval officers, most on active duty and several who are retired, who return to Annapolis to teach Midshipmen from their fleet and world experience. Numerous alumni with storied success in the Navy and Marine Corps as well as in civilian careers return to the campus to lecture and to share their varied expertise. The practical application of the tenets of service and of the Navy core values is further exercised by Midshipmen engaged in world travel during summer military training in the Fleet with Navy and the Marine Corps units.
150522-N-SQ432-878Mr. Fleming’s observation that many officers leave the service after five years is almost accurate, but his assessment that this attrition invalidates the entire training model is not. Many officers commissioned in Annapolis, as well as many of those commissioned from ROTC universities, do depart the service in predictable numbers after their initial service obligation. For Naval Academy graduates, the initial obligation ends between five and seven years, depending on community (Navy and Marine Corps aviation trainees, for example do not begin to satisfy their service obligation until after they receive their “wings”, a training process that takes approximately two years). The annual attrition numbers vary annually and are influenced by changes in global economic factors, ship and squadron deployment schedules, as well as the impact of naval service during a time of war that has had a measurable toll on those Navy and Marine Officers who witness it.
No system of recruitment in any major corporation, military branch, or government agency can accurately predict long-term attrition and retention rates, nor can it guarantee long-term retention. Therefore, like the Navy, other businesses and agencies recruit large numbers of initial trainees with the understanding that some will not make it all the way to the IBM boardroom, to the corner office, or to command of a ship, submarine, or squadron. None of those institutions, however, would consider their initial training programs wasteful or worthy of cancellation because some number of their initial applicants didn’t last beyond five years, or because the same number didn’t make it all the way to CEO.
The time Midshipmen spend in Annapolis is the crucible, but after four years, their commission and newly-earned rank of Navy Ensign or Marine Second Lieutenant is merely their “license to learn”. Our enlisted Sailors and Marines swear an oath to God that they will obey the orders of the officers appointed over them, and these officers do not take that obligation lightly. When they get to the Fleet, they embrace this obligation to learn and the responsibilities of active duty with vigor. I have witnessed many superb demonstrations of excellence, self-sacrifice, and devotion to their shipmates by junior officers from all commissioning sources alike. I imagine teaching college students of the age and demographic that America’s towns may send to Mr. Fleming’s English classes may be occasionally frustrating based on the bitter list of what he says “Midshipmen learn” in his latest article to criticize both his employer and his students.
Unfortunately, Mr. Fleming has only seen them perform in the classroom. However, my peers and I have seen them as junior officers in the Fleet demonstrating “what Midshipmen learn” and performing amazing acts of leadership and selflessness using what the entire institution gave them, not merely the time spent in class. Below are just a few of the anecdotes I have observed that featured resilient and resourceful Naval Academy graduates . . . all examples of what they REALLY learn:
◾A newly-qualified small boat officer I sent out at night in 7-foot seas intuitively changed procedures on-the-fly without asking, resulting in a much faster rescue of one of my crew who had fallen overboard.
◾On liberty in St. John, USVI, an Ensign intervened in a deadly attack in a bar, saving the life of one of our Chiefs who was in trouble.
◾An Ensign who returned to work just days after a miscarriage to make direct contributions to execute a complex mission she had originally planned, upon which hundreds of Sailors depended.
◾A Lieutenant (j.g.) who arrived first on the scene of a major fire onboard the ship, evacuated two injured Sailors from the space without any protective equipment, then returned with only an oxygen bottle and mask and fought the fire for five minutes until he was relieved because an ammunition magazine was on the other side of the bulkhead.
◾A Lieutenant (j.g.) who designed and built a shower and bathroom facility out of spare parts to ensure dignity and sanitation for nearly ninety refugees we found at sea. Then she spent every hour off-watch supporting and comforting the passengers, using a foreign language she had learned during an exchange year abroad at a foreign service academy.
There are countless other stories like these. I have accumulated these in over 23 years in uniform on active duty in five warships, and continue to see more examples of excellence within the four destroyers in our squadron and on our squadron and task force staffs. With every summer graduation cycle, every ship I have served in over these years has received a batch of fresh and enthusiastic men and women ably trained to serve after four years studying in Annapolis. Each cruiser or destroyer-sized ship typically receives around four to seven new officers every year, distributed generally from the source ratio noted earlier, resulting in a couple of USNA graduates.
150522-N-SQ432-235Upon arrival onboard our ships, I have observed that Naval Academy graduates are consistently better-prepared in the fundamentals of our profession: All Annapolis graduates earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, regardless of their major. Even the liberal arts majors (yes, Mr. Fleming, there are even a few poets, thank God) arrive with the foundation courses required to earn a BS degree. This mandatory USNA curriculum is designed to ensure that all graduates arrive in their ship, submarine, or flight school with a robust knowledge of the engineering, science, math, and physics fundamentals needed to understand our Navy’s ships, submarines, and military aircraft: some of the most complicated machines our country can build.
In the wardrooms of my own ships, the Naval Academy Ensigns were able to demonstrate a level of knowledge upon arrival in navigation, weather, ship handling, small arms, firefighting, and watch-standing that exceeded that of most of the NROTC and OCS graduates. The Annapolis graduates also arrived onboard with a seasoned comfort and familiarity with more than naval custom; they already knew how to “get along” and to work through challenges. The unique training environment of the USNA, starting with the arduous “plebe summer,” bonds these officers together with a common vision of service, tolerance, mutual support, self-reliance, team dynamics, and the ability to overcome adversity.
As Mr. Fleming’s bi-annual call to “get rid of Annapolis” and other Service Academies has hit the blogosphere, I caution taxpayers to rest assured. Navy leaders are not squandering your resources, and continue to select, train, educate, and promote the “best and brightest” to lead the Navy of the future. I am proud to have served alongside Naval Academy graduates everywhere I have been assigned. Thanks to the cooler heads who manage the future of the Navy in Annapolis, throughout the Fleet, in the Pentagon, and in Congress, I am confident that this institution will remain open, and will continue to develop the future of our Fleet long after I have “swallowed the anchor” and pursued a life ashore.
Have not seen an issue of the “Sentry” since May 2018. Does anyone know if it has completely stop publcation
or is it taking a haitus of some sort? Looking forward to the departure of ADM Hellis and welcoming the new Commandant, has anyone heard who has been selected to replace ADM Hellis and when will this take place?
No, not stopping publication. Just took a haitus. Blogging takes a tremendous amount of time if you want to do it right. My daughter was home for the Summer and it was more important that I spent time with her than at the kitchen table plodding away at the keyboard. And, knowing that Helis was leaving, much of the urgency about dealing with issues at KP was lessened.
I still plan on maintaining the blog. But, especially with the impending announcement of a really top notch replacement for Helis (I’ve heard the name but it’s not official and I’ll respect the desire to keep it quiet until its official), I’m looking forward to a nice long period of not needing to blog.
It very interesting note. I was unaware of your existence until I received from a fellow classmate a copy of your blog. I am a retired Administrative Law Judge. I would like to be placed on your mailing list.
George Rothwell, class of 1958
I don’t have a mailing list per se. If you send a friend request to https://www.facebook.com/save.kingspoint/, I will accept. When I post something here, I cross post it to that FaceBook account.