In the editorial I posted the other day, I called for the firing of Maritime Administrator, Chip Jaenichen, and Superintendent James Helis. A number of people have asked me over the last couple of days why I think Jaenichen should fired. Often, the suggestion is that the problems at Kings Point will be solved if only Helis is terminated. To understand why Jaenichen must be fired, you need to understand that MARAD has micro-managed the Academy. This is made clear in the MSCHE accreditation report:
- “The independent and separate reporting of several key functional units to MARAD clearly undermines integrated planning and, in the opinion of most at USMMA, is counterproductive and even demoralizing.” p.8
- The direct reporting of the Financial, Human Resources, and Procurement administrative service areas to MARAD, with an additional level of oversight from Department of Transportation in many instances, provides significant impediments to the allocation of assets in a timely way. p.9
- The inflexible and indifferent approach of Human Resources personnel coupled with the direct reporting relationship to MARAD introduces conflicting objectives, severely slows the hiring of employees and, it is widely reported, takes the hiring unit out of hiring decision. p.9
- The former Director of Public Works/Maintenance and Repair described his frustration with the budget process in a May 2014 interview: “There needs to be a more streamlined way to get the money from Washington to the Academy.” p.10
- The Academy has significant impediments to achieving institutional effectiveness, many created by the inadequacy of and the lack of control over its own resources. p.10
- The Superintendent does not currently have direct control over the hiring process for faculty and staff. The Superintendent must have the authority and responsibility, assigned or delegated from DOT and/or MARAD as appropriate, to ensure adequate faculty, staff, and administration to support the institution’s mission and outcomes expectations. p.10
- The institutional strategic plan was led and produced by MARAD with assistance from the Volpe Center with marginal participation and input by faculty. Guidance for the plan, and most of the participants, came from the Office of the Secretary of Transportation. There has been very little buy-in into this strategic plan, and the administrative structure does not appear to provide support to effectively achieve the milestones in the strategic plan. p.13
- The team did not find any evidence of efforts of the senior administrative structure to be in regular contact with faculty thinking or with students to understand their concerns and perspectives. The Superintendent periodically conducts town hall meetings for the faculty, staff, and midshipmen. According to the faculty these meetings are primarily meant to update them on the activities going on at the Academy and not for a dialogue with the faculty, staff, and midshipmen. p.13
Add to this criticism Jaenichen’s role in the sea year stand down. Jaenichen knows what the SA/SH statistics show. He knows what MSCHE had to say about SA/SH and that MSCHE did not implicate sea year or the maritime industry as the source or cause of the SA/SH problem. But he has pushed that false narrative (my guess is that he did so to shift the blame for the MSCHE dismal performance — to the severe detriment of the midshipmen who now will not graduate on time. As the maritime unions have recognized, the false narrative has implications for the entire American merchant marine and national defense. Jaenichen has severely undermined the very industry that he is supposed to foster. He has lost the confidence of the entire industry. Jaenichen should be shown the door – and quickly.
Jaenichen is also responsible for the language in S.2829 which, if not removed in conference committee, will allow a committee dominated by representatives of state maritime schools to decide whether the Academy should continue to have a sea year in which midshipmen are placed on commercial vessels. (Background here.) Jaenichen’s MARAD is charged with fostering the Academy – the “crown jewel” – and yet Jaenichen is the one who is responsible for the language in the bill that allows the state schools – which compete with the Academy for federal funds – to determine the Academy’s fate.
Given Jeanichen’s role and the fact that MARAD has micro-managed the Academy and therefore thwarted Helis’ ability to do his job, some might ask, “Then why are you calling for Helis to be fired, too?” My answer to that is two-fold. First, the Academy Superintendent has to be the advocate for the midshipmen. When the decision was being made to cancel sea year, Helis should have said, “Secretary Foxx, canceling sea year is not the solution. Sea year is not the problem and canceling it won’t do a damn thing to address the problem. If you go forward with this, I will resign in protest and I will not go quietly.” That’s what a real leader would have done. Helis failed that test of leadership; presumably because to take such a stand would have required him to admit, rather than cover up, the fact that the MSCHE accreditation disaster was due in large part to his failure to address SA/SH at the Academy and had nothing to do with sea year.
The second reason Helis must be fired is because he lied. He was the superintendent that drove the Alumni Association off of the Academy grounds based upon the false claim that Babson House was needed for temporary classrooms. Every midshipmen that has gone through Vickery Gate and seen Babson House sitting empty for the last four years knows that their superintendent lied about that. And then he lied about what the MSCHE report said. That lie led to: the cancellation of sea year; the delayed graduation of many midshipmen; and the defamation of the entire marine industry. And by now, everyone know that was a lie, because my $100,000 bet is still safe. Midshipmen live by the honor code – “A midshipman shall not lie, cheat or steal.” You can’t lead those midshipmen if you aren’t willing, or able, to live by that same code. Look at it this way, when the superintendent effectively says to the midshipmen, “when it comes to values, do as I say, not as I do,” how can you expect the midshipmen to accept any of your values – including those relating to sexual assault and sexual harassment?
Get ready for the bureaucratic endgame. The pressure is starting to build on MARAD; and, my guess is that to relieve some of that pressure, Helis will be shown the door in the coming weeks. If that happens, though, do not be fooled. Do not become complacent. Helis will not be jetsam thrown overboard to save the sinking ship. He will simply be sacrificed by those in MARAD (both Jaenichen and the entrenched permanent MARAD staff) who will then argue, “See, we solved the problem.” It’s just another version of the same misdirection ploy as the sea year
stand down cancellation. The goal will be to ride out the storm – without restoring sea year — while MARAD continues to divert resources from addressing the real SA/SH problem at the Academy with the false narrative it has created. Real reform will only begin when both Jaenichen and Helis are gone and sea year is immediately reinstated. When that is accomplished, the impediments to addressing the actual SA/SH problem will be removed and the hard work can begin.