Quick reaction to all of the news that broke yesterday

I’m traveling this weekend and Internet access is limited, so this will be brief. I’ve broken this post into three categories: The good news; the bad news; and observations about the LMI Report.

First the good news:

  1. The path is paved for restoration of sea year on commercial ships.
  2. Chip Jaenichen is no longer Maritime Administrator. I wish him foul winds and angry seas.
  3. Contrary to the spin being thrown at the midshipmen in yesterday’s meeting, nothing that has been implemented as a result of the LMI Report is cast in stone and the incoming administration will have great leeway to fix the mess that Secretary Anthony Foxx, FORMER Maritime Administrator Jaenichen (that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?) and Superintendent James Helis created.
  4. The Academy has hired an executive officer, John Demers. Many Academy supporters who know him are encouraged by this choice and describe him as having high integrity and a great work ethic.
  5. In 12 days, Secretary Anthony Foxx and Deputy Administrator Michael Rodriguez will be out of office.

Speaking of Rodriguez, he gets a special shout out from KPS.com for telling the midshipmen in the meeting on Friday that they shouldn’t listen to their parents or alumni; shouldn’t visit “those websites”; and should only listen to their commanding officers. The really good news is they won’t have to listen to him anymore — he’s gone in 12 days, reportedly to screw up another maritime school.

Now the bad news:

Sea year on commercial ships is not yet restored, and the path created by the administration is designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, to restore it.  As just one example, LMI suggests that the Academy should require commercial shipping companies to provide “[d]ocumentation showing that background checks have been performed on all crew members, including checks of sex offender registries.” This potentially requires a shipping company to invade the privacy of its employees and almost certainly would raise concerns with the maritime unions. (And if the individuals who would be targeted by this documentation requirement have been able to get Merchant Mariner Documents and TWIC cards, why is any further documentation required? What would be done with such documentation?)  Trying to work out a system for legally providing such documentation that also does not violate the commercial shipping companies’ contracts with their unions could take years.

Fortunately, with a new administration in the Department of Transportation and MARAD, more rational thinking can prevail. I expect that the new administration will substantially rewrite the credentialing process for restoring sea year on commercial ships and remove obstacles that are not appropriate.

Observations about the LMI Report and yesterday’s meeting:

  • LMI interviewed only 48 midshipmen: 30 men and 18 women. The report states that 12 men and 12 women midshipmen were selected at random. “In addition, we requested a list and contact information for midshipmen in regimental leadership positions from which we randomly selected additional midshipmen interviewees.” (Emphasis added.)  (There is also extensive evidence of selection bias in the selection of the other people LMI interviewed.)
  • LMI stated that “the Academy and MARAD lack a program to ensure that shipping companies have adequate policies and procedures in place during Sea Year.” Buried in the report, LMI finally notes that there are existing legal requirements for shipping companies to have SA/SH policies in place. Moreover, the USCG has authority to deal with SA/SH on merchant ships. So why should the Academy or MARAD duplicate the efforts of other agencies?
  • LMI relies upon the invalid data and conclusions of the 2013-14 Sexual Assault and Gender Relations survey (“SAGR”). Specifically, it mentions the now discredited claim from the 2013-14 SAGR that rates of harassment are much higher at Kings Point in comparison to the other federal academies. Once the administration finally caved to the pressure from the alumni and parents to release the underlying data from the SAGR survey, we were able to demonstrate that the results from the USMMA SAGR survey cannot be compared with the results from the SAGR surveys for the other federal academies because the survey measures SA/SH at USMMA for a 22 month period whereas it measures SA/SH at the other academies over only an 11 month period.
  • The bottom line recommendation from LMI is for the Academy to do what it said it was going to do in June 2016 and what the shipping companies essentially gave to the Academy at the industry meeting in June 2016 — a credentialing process for shipping companies to show they are offering a SA/SH-safe workplace. Crowley, Exxon, Matson and many other companies could have been credentialed in June 2016.
  • Another LMI suggestion essentially mirrors what Middle States’ accreditation team required in June 2016: make improvements to more fully prepare and support midshipmen in the sea year program.
  • The suggestions for further review included in the LMI report are a harbinger of what is to come from the state-maritime-school-dominated working group that the National Defense Authorization Act requires be appointed before January 13, 2017. (Details in this post about that working group.) For example, LMI included the statement that “[s]ome industry representatives indicated that cadets from state maritime academies are often more prepared than USMMA cadets, possibly due to their additional maritime experience gained while aboard training vessels.” I’ll have some suggestions as to how the incoming administration can deal with that working group (including reconstituting it) in a later post.
  • Finally, Superintendent Helis, the condescension that you showed to the midshipmen yesterday is beyond the pale. The midshipmen are not “delusional.” You, sir, are delusional if you think you can lead this Academy when the midshipmen, the faculty and the alumni have zero confidence in your ability to lead or even tell the truth. You, sir, are delusional if you think that the polices you  and MARAD attempted to impose before the new administration takes charge are not going to be substantially undone when a new team, willing to rely upon facts and evidence, takes over.

1 Comment

  1. We could debate whether Helis was ever qualified to hold a position of leadership at KP. There is no debate that the Regiment and many of the staff and academic personnel have zero respect for him now and that he, through his actions, has made himself unfit to lead by lying to the Regiment and every other stakeholder about the reasoning behind the Sea Year cancellation. The MSCHE report is not that long, and not that difficult to read and understand. It does not provide support for the Sea Year cancellation and never did. The Regiment knows this. Helis (presuming he actually read the MSCHE report) knows this also. Helis’ continued citing of the MSCHE report in support of the Sea Year cancellation is a clear Honor Code violation.

    Every appointee to KP takes an Honor Code oath during Indoc, and every midshipman is expected live by that oath, no matter where they are on land or sea. Under the Honor Code, a midshipman will not lie, cheat or steal, has a moral obligation to take action if they are aware of an honor violation, and face disciplinary action if they fail to take such action. (Excerpts from the USMMA website Honor Board section are copied below.)
    It comes as no surprise that LMI reports that Helis does not have credibility onboard KP. By his actions Helis has lost all moral authority to lead.

    (I don’t know how Helis is or should be treated when he returns to visit his alma mater. West Point’s Honor Code has an additional clause stating that cadets shall not “tolerate those” who lie, cheat or steal.)

    “Honor is a topic that is treated with the utmost respect from the first day of Plebe year to Graduation. Upon entering the Academy, all Midshipman sign an Honor Oath. This oath, administered by the officers of the Honor Board, binds each Midshipman to uphold the Honor Code at all times, in all hemispheres of the globe, on all oceans.”
    “Every midshipman has a moral obligation to take action. If a Midshipman witnesses an honor violation and fails to do something about the infraction, they are will be awarded demerits for failing their duties as an Officer in training. It is left to the witnessing Midshipman to use his/ her best judgment in the given situation.
    Upon witnessing an honor violation, a Midshipman is morally obligated to take one of the following actions:
    Personally confront the individual and counsel them on why they possibly violated the Honor Code.
    Report the incident to the Company Honor Board Chairman. The CHBC will hold an Informal Counseling Session with the Accused.
    Complete a “Report a Possible Violation” and submit it to the CHBC. This initiates a formal counseling session and formal procedures. An investigation and hearing may ultimately result from this action.”

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