A new vibe at Kings Point

I’m at the Academy homecoming for my 35th reunion. Some of you will recall that I went to last year’s homecoming and reported on what the administration was saying then and actions being taken by alumni. I am pleased to report that the atmosphere on campus is significantly improved. Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby attended the Alumni Awards Dinner Thursday evening and has been visible all over the campus today. He spoke to the Academy Alumni Foundation this morning; was at the top of the steps of Delano Hall for lunch, greeting alumni coming in to dine with the midshipmen; after lunch he was spotted on Zero Deck, unescorted, talking to people walking past him; then he was off to the State of the Academy session; was the reviewing officer for the Formal Parade; and dropped in on the Class of ’82’s evening function and spent over an hour there chatting with those of us who were plebes when he was our Regimental Commander. And that’s just what I personally witnessed.  By way of contrast, last year former Maritime Administrator Jaenichen stormed out of the meeting with the AAF referring to the alumni as “fucking assholes” when all we had done was to confront him with facts that were counter to the narrative he was trying to spin.

Admiral Buzby delivered several messages today that gave all Academy stakeholders reason to be optimistic about the future. The major news he delivered was that the Alumni Foundation is being welcomed back on campus. While the details remain to be worked out, he envisions that the Lerner House will be donated to the Academy and simultaneously a favorable lease of space to the Alumni Foundation will be executed. Several years ago, the AAF proposed a solution along these lines. At one point, the AAF suggested that the Lerner House is more appropriate as housing for the Superintendent (both in terms of suitability for the Superintendent and in terms of local zoning laws); whereas the Superintendent’s current house is located near the more “commercial” aspects of the Academy (such as Melville Hall) and would be an ideal location for a visitor center and AAF offices.  The exact details of where the AAF will be located on campus remain to be determined.

I asked Buzby about the decision to bring the AAF back on board and he referred to the decision as “low hanging fruit.” He stated that when he discussed the issue with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, she was in full support of the move and signed off on it quickly.

Buzby’s comments on the  restoration of sea year were also very promising.  One additional company (unfortunately with only one ship) (bringing us to a total of ten companies) is now approved to carry Academy midshipmen; but, seven additional companies are now in the process of getting approved. He stated that he had asked his staff to look at ways of making the process of getting approved less onerous, which is something that industry has encouraged; and that he was personally calling the presidents of shipping companies to encourage them to apply for approval and to gain an understanding of any reasons that they companies might be hesitant to seek the approval.  Up until Buzby’s intervention, MARAD was content to wait for companies to come to it to request approval — with predictable results.

Despite this positive message on sea year, Superintendent Helis acknowledged that a key weakness in the restoration of sea year was the lack of opportunities for midshipmen to get sea year assignments on tankers, a problem we had noted here. Without such assignments, midshipmen are precluded from getting their Person-in-Charge cards before graduation, which limits their employment opportunities. The fact that the administration is acknowledging this issue is a big step towards addressing it.

During the State of the Academy session, I had the opportunity to point out that the Defense Management Data Center Sexual Assault and Gender Relations Surveys were not tailored to be usefully applied to the Academy and thus were unreliable.  I was pleased to hear Buzby agree in a manner that indicated that he fully understood the problem.  Buzby stated that he is presently reviewing the interim survey report and was “footnoting it” to make sure that it was clear that the margins of error were so broad (e.g., +/- 12%) that it was impossible to determine whether incidents of sexual assault/sexual harassment were increasing or decreasing or whether they were higher or lower than other educational institutions.  It is very encouraging that Buzby is drilling into the data rather than simply accepting it without question.  I should note that Buzby did not downplay the need to address SASH:  He acknowledged that even thought the data may be flawed in some respects, it nevertheless suggests that there is a problem with midshipmen-on-midshipmen SASH and that he was challenging the midshipmen to take ownership of the problem and to address it.

Superintendent Helis gave a positive report on the status of reaccreditation.  The Academy submitted a monitoring report to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (“MSCHE”) and the accrediting committee from MSCHE will be on campus next week. Helis indicates that he is optimistic that on November 20, 2017, MSCHE will remove the warning on the Academy and that it will be reaccredited.  I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that if the Academy is reaccredited, then Helis will resign as Superintendent shortly thereafter so that he can claim he is leaving on a high note.  I don’t care how he goes — just as long as he goes.

Finally, I should note how encouraging it is that Buzby has committed to the maximum transparency possible with respect to MARAD.  He told me today (which was a repeat of a promise he made to me several months ago), that if I wanted information, I should not hesitate to call him and ask for it. As he said this, he handed me his business card with his direct dial and cellular phone numbers on it. When you think of it, there is really no reason why most of MARAD’s work should not be fully transparent.  I intend to take Buzby up on this offer shortly; this commitment to transparency is certainly a departure from MARAD’s past adversarial attitude to Freedom of Information Act requests.

All of the above news is flowing through the regiment. I made it a point to speak with as many midshipmen as possible today and the general feeling was one of being energized by Buzby’s message and commitment and being determined to live up to his expectations.  If that happens, then a new dawn will indeed rise over the Academy.

 

 

 

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22 Comments

  1. I feel such hope for the Academy and the Midshipmen. This news is more important to me than a flu shot. Thank you for your report Andy Simpson.

  2. Andy, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, for your tireless and unrelenting time, effort, intelligence, and persistence, and in working with others, to right this ship. You have my utmost respect, if that means anything. Congratulations on your well-deserved Alumni Award, earning the respect of all Alumni. I know you are a humble person, but I want you to know you did what few could do. You are the living description of Acta Non Verba. THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!!!

  3. Thank you Andy. The selfish question I ask is this: Will MARAD review some of the dis-enrollments, and reverse them if they were done under false reasons by the Acting Dean and RADM Helis? It was made clear to my son that Helis’ decision was final, MARAD could not reverse it. My son had been on ACPRO, came off at the end of Oct 2016; started Sea Year in November 2016, and sat at home for two months, and ended up with 63 sea days and did not complete his projects (and refused to cheat…). He was kicked out for violation of ACPRO (which he was no longer on). We have the documentation on all of this, we thought about suing KP for lack of due process and denying an implied benefit; however we decided to move on with life. However we would like the dis-enrollment reversed by MARAD and allow my son to resign with honor. It’s been an invaluable learning experience for my son, he is now in a place where the Admin leads positively by example.

  4. Andy,
    An honor to meet you personally. Congratulations to the recognition given you for Meritorius Alumni Service as well at Outstanding Professional Achievement. Both well deserved. As a close follower of your posts I hope you will keep up the good work!
    With Aloha! Gordon Inouye’65

  5. Wonderful news! One mention in my own cursory look over of the data was just that the sea year SASH statistics, as they were, were lower than the on campus ones. Emphasis might well be made that in retrospect the unilateral stand down was about as illogical as doing the same thing on campus would have been!

  6. Andy great report and indeed I too witnessed and saw a changed and altered vibe all weekend! I am just so grateful to Mark Bixby for taking on the challenges at MARAD from fixing issues at our Alma Mater, to helping to strengthen our entire nation’s maritime industry and ensuring the State Maritime Academy’s aging and archaic training ships are addressed and replaced/renewed. His commitment to transparaceny and accountability are for him just a continuation of the code he’s lived by but it’s truly inspiring and contagious, at least to me. Also thanks for all you do and it was great seeing you, glad you escaped Irma,relatively unscathed and we’re able to be present to receive your well deserved Alumni Service Award.

  7. I was at Thursday night awards dinner and for the weekend. Admiral Buzby was a huge positive presence. Everyone was charged up by his positive attitude about the Academy. I have high expectations that all of the last 8 years of problems will be addressed quickly with changes for a better future for the Academy.

  8. Congratulations on your awards Andy – Well deserved and I definitely share your optimism as I was also on campus last year for the Homecoming Reunion and attended the same events. The contrast from last year to this year could not be more different and the “vibe” as you put it – is definitely uplifting. I talked to several midshipmen and their morale is definitely better and they were really pumped with new Administrator Buzby addressed them on campus a few weeks ago. Buzby is a model example of Kings Point leadership.

  9. As the parent of a current mid, I would just like to say thank you for all your efforts. Throughout this process, I think the unifying factor between concerned parents, an active alumni association and the trapped mids has been the KPS. It has provided a universal public forum for the exchange of ideas, information and support. It may be the single biggest reason that all the interested parties were able to avoid being divided and conquered by the previous MARAD administration. In unity there is strength.
    Like you, I suspect accreditation issues will be resolved in the Academy’s favor. I also expect, from everything I have heard about Buzby, that the very real issue of SASH will be dealt with in a manner that doesn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. He’s not going to deny the existence of a real problem, but will instead deal with it in a manner that is supportive of victims while not subjecting the accused to a kangaroo court. Nor is he likely to impose a measure, such as the stand down, that rips at the very fabric of the school.
    Please keep doing what you have been doing.

  10. Andy, your report brings welcome news and cause to celebrate. Thank you so much for all you (and others) have done to keep us posted on events impacting KP and it’s future. We should all continue to let our representatives know how strongly we feel about the Academy and the service it proves to the country. Thanks again for your leadership.

  11. Aloha Andy,
    knowing you are based in the US Virgin Islands, am hoping that you and yours are safe after the last experience with Hurricane Maria. Please let us know if we can help you in any way?
    With Aloha, Gordon Inouye’65

    • Thanks Gordon. I personally did much better than my island (St. Croix) did; and my island did much better than St. Thomas or St. John, the BVI, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, Barbuda, Dominica, etc. etc. My home and office both suffered minor damage (lost gutters, some water infiltration). My office was operational (on a generator) within a few days of Maria hitting, with full Internet and telephone service. We got power restored there two weeks after the storm. While all of that was nice, the courts still are not functioning at pre-hurricane levels and it’s hard to do business when other lawyers and the courts are not functioning. At home, I’ve now been off-the-grid for a full nine weeks. Not likely to get power back until Christmas. I’m fortunate to have solar hot water and solar panels that charge batteries that then run through an inverter to power most of my home. As long as I’m careful, the batteries last all night powering my refrigerator, water pump, a few ceiling fans, and a few LED lights. On sunny days, we can run the washer and (gas heat) dryer. So I truly cannot complain about my situation. I’m thankful for my KP engineering l’arning that made me go up on my roof 24 hours before the storm hit and attach a string of 2×4’s parallel to the ridge beam, between the ridge and the solar panels. That way when the 120 mph sustained winds came over the ridge (accelerating from 120 mph due to going up a slope), they encountered the 2x4s and were deflected up and over my solar panels. Just common sense if you’ve been trained to think critically (and then have the confidence to act on your knowledge). There are a lot of homes here that lost their solar panels; mine never budged.

      There’s still much to do here, which is why I haven’t posted much (that and there are adults in charge now so the need for oversight is greatly reduced). Free time is spent clearing brush from my property and dealing with lots of little things that broke. While I didn’t lose any trees that I cared about (thanks to cutting them back before Irma and then again before Maria), there are a ton of bushes/hedges bordering my boundaries that are now growing at angles practically parallel to the ground that need to be cut back and righted. And there are plenty of minor irritations that increase exponentially after a storm; such as, businesses are closed or out-of-stock but they don’t have working phones so the only way to find out is to drive to them; go to a restaurant and find out that it still can’t take credit cards; etc., etc.

      As I indicated at the beginning, I really have no basis to complain. My only reason for spelling this out is so that folks will know why posting has been slim.

      Andy

  12. Definitely a new vibe; didn’t expect new SARC and acting student activities person to have a website about fisting and pregnancy sex, etc. Look at outsmartmagazine.com. Look for ask Dr. Laura.

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