Have I been unfair to Jaenichen and Helis?

There are some who think I have been unfair to Maritime Administrator Jaenichen and Superintendent Helis by calling for them to be fired. The individuals who have challenged me on this think that I haven’t given Jaenichen and Helis appropriate credit for their efforts to address SA/SH at the Academy. After all, in a July 7, 2016 interview on Maritime TV, Jaenichen said,

“We have done everything on campus that we can possibly do. We have trained; we have gone through scenario based discussions; we’ve had focus groups; we have done everything we can but it hasn’t moved the needle.”

Well, if that’s true, then indeed, I have been unfair. So let’s see if it is true.

On October 23, 2014, the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General issued an Audit Report entitled “Better Program Management and Oversight are Required for USMMA’s Efforts to Address Sexual Assault and Harassment.” The IG begins by observing that six years earlier, Congress required DOT and USMMA to address SA/SH at the Academy. The IG further observed that the “effectiveness of” the steps that had been taken “had been called into question.” (Page 1) As the IG explained, Congress was so concerned at the lack of effectiveness that it requested the IG to conduct a “comprehensive evaluation of the Academy’s efforts to create a climate in which sexual assault and harassment are not tolerated . . .” (Page 2)  The summary of the results of that evaluation is found at pages 3-4. Suffice it to say that the IG found significant shortcomings, including that “there is no clear accountability for addressing and correcting program weaknesses.” (Page 3) The headings of the rest of the report provide a pretty good idea of what the IG found:

  • USMMA Made Progress on its Original Action Plan, but Many Actions Remain Incomplete
  • Delays and Survey Weaknesses Limit the Usefulness of USMMA Reports
  • USMMA’S SAPR Program Lacks Clear Oversight Authority and Responsibility

So now lets fast forward two years and see how Jaenichen and Helis did in addressing the IG findings. On August 11, 2016, the Inspector General sent a report to Congress that assessed the Academy’s progress in implementing its subsequent action plan, which covered January 2014 to November 2015. The IG found that the Academy had completed only 66% (29 of 44) of the items in its action plan. Some of the action items that were not completed are particularly telling:

Action Item No.12: “Conduct briefings with shipping companies on the possibility of midshipman-on-midshipman sexual harassment and sexual assault and the steps to respond to an incident in accordance with USMMA policies and procedures.”

(First of all, note that the administration was admitting in 2014-15 that the problem was midshipmen-on-midshipmen assault – not an industry problem.)

Regardless, since Jaenichen says that the administration did “everything on campus that we can possibly do,” I’m sure this action item was completed, right? Sadly, no.

IG: The administration had not started work on this action item.

Action Item No.13: “Engage with maritime industry to solicit ideas and make recommendations for additional training or policy changes.”

IG: the administration had “partially completed” this action item.

So guess how many industry groups the administration had engaged with in 2014-15 in order to get a “partial completion?” One. That’s right. One. If this were a sea project, it wouldn’t be a partial completion – it would be a failure and a setback.

Action Item No.15: “Provide scenario-based training discussions facilitated by company officers, faculty, or selected staff members.”

IG: This was partially completed because the only evidence that any such training occurred was that a “USMMA official described engaging staff to build training into other classes, such as ethics and leadership, but did not provide any examples of training or discussions actually occurring.”

Action Item No.21: “Enhance awareness of crude/offensive behaviors discussions.”

IG:  “Not started.”

Action Item No.22: “Provide awareness of unwanted sexual attention discussions.”

IG: “Carried over to the next action plan.” In other words, it wasn’t started.

So maybe the Inspector General was being unfair? Then consider what the Middle States accreditation team had to say:

“The campus climate and incidence of sexual harassment and sexual assault have been a serious and recognized problem for over 10 years. This conclusion was echoed in the Reviewer’s Report on Compliance with Accreditation-Relevant Federal Regulations. The pervasiveness of the incidents is perceived as undeniable and disturbing. While the Academy has consistently recognized the serious problem that it faces and has officially recorded it, the efforts in place to prevent new recurrences have been insufficient and ineffective. Perhaps most disturbing is that the victims do not report the incidents, and the only evidence of its pervasiveness is obtained through confidential surveys. While the trend is alarming, and there is clear evidence of the intention to implement corrective action, the initiatives in place have been inconsistent, not fully supported, and ineffective.” (Page 20, emphasis added)

Two independent agencies both conclude that the administration’s efforts to deal with SA/SH have been “ineffective” and incomplete. I will give Jaenichen the benefit of the doubt and accept his claim that “we have done everything on campus that we can possibly do.” If that is true, then Jaenichen has admitted that he and his leadership team have reached the limits of their capabilities; under those circumstances, they must be replaced by leaders who are not so limited. Of course, if he hasn’t done everything he can do, then he should be fired for not making the effort.

Either way, I think my assessment that Jaenichen and Helis must be fired was not only fair — it correctly recognized that if we are serious about addressing the SA/SH problem at the Academy, the first step that must be taken is to change leadership both in Washington and at Kings Point.