Words matter

Readers of this blog are by now familiar with my use of “stand down cancellation” whenever I refer to the administration’s hasty and poorly-thought out decision relating to Sea Year. I do that intentionally to emphasize that words matter. It has now been 104 days since sea year was stood down cancelled. For the B-Splits, their sea year has effectively been cancelled.

On both sides of the sea year and accreditation issues at Kings Point, there is confusion about certain phrases. Although I express editorial opinion on this website, I am trying to be very careful about using accurate terminology. I would encourage everyone to do the same. Here are some examples:

The definition of “Sea Year” used by the Maritime Administrator

At homecoming, Maritime Administrator Jaenichen repeatedly made the representation that the sea year stand down cancellation is over. That is simply not an accurate statement. Jaenichen is trying to redefine “sea year” as an experience on non-commercial ships. So, if a midshipman is assigned to a U.S. Navy vessel, Jaenichen considers the midshipman to be on “sea year.” While the Navy is to be commended for its efforts to help midshipmen salvage something of their sea year training, an experience on a Navy ship is no substitute for sailing on a commercial ship and in some ways may provide misleading (unintentionally) training:

  • The Navy has the luxury of having numerous personnel to do the tasks that are accomplished by one or two people on a commercial vessel.
  • The Navy has the luxury of redundancies in equipment and spares that allows it to address engineering challenges in an entirely different manner than is done in the commercial fleet.
  • Even if a midshipman is fortunate enough to be assigned to a Navy oiler,  the exposure to cargo operations will be significantly different than the way it is done on commercial ships.

In short, a USMMA midshipmen trained on a U.S. Navy ship is in for a huge surprise when he or she reports aboard a commercial vessel as a third mate or third assistant engineer.

Likewise, being assigned to a Reserve Fleet vessel that is sitting at a dock in a non-active state is not a substitute for sea year. One simply cannot derive the educational value from an assignment to an inactive vessel that one can get from being assigned to an active commercial ship. And maybe the collective Academy leadership’s lack of experience on commercial vessels prevents it from understanding this, but, it’s really hard to do celestial navigation on a ship sitting at the dock without a clear view of the horizon.

Jaenichen’s attempt to redefine “sea year” was undermined at homecoming even by Superintendent Helis, who repeatedly recognized that what the midshipmen currently are receiving is “less than optimal.” On this point, I wholeheartedly agree with Helis; although “less than optimal” considerably understates the difference between true sea year and what our midshipmen are currently receiving.

The definition of “Sea Year” as used in the SAGR Surveys

The Academy’s SA/SH 2013-14 and 2011-12 surveys do not use the term “Sea Year” when asking the midshipmen about sexual harassment or sexual assaults. Instead, midshipmen are asked whether they encountered off-campus SA/SH during “summer experience/training/sea duty.” I gave examples in a FAQ (scroll down to FAQ No.7) of some (of many) of the different non-sea year experiences this could include. Nevertheless, at homecoming, Helis repeatedly claimed that the SAGR Surveys showed that SA/SH was occurring during sea year. That’s a false statement. The SAGR surveys simply do not ask a narrow enough question for anyone to make such a claim.

The Academy’s accreditation status

There has been a lot of discussion on Facebook about the Academy’s accreditation status. The Academy has not “failed” accreditation. It was placed on “accreditation warning.” Accreditation warning is not a good thing and the Academy has suffered the embarrassment of being the only federal academy to ever be placed on accreditation warning. But, there is still time to right the ship and avoid losing (or failing) accreditation. (I’m going to try to get a post up about the timeline for correcting the issues flagged by the accreditation warning in the near future, because there is a lot of concern and confusion about that.)

The definition of “Sexual Harassment” used in the USMMA SAGR surveys

I wrote a post about the difference between “sexual harassment” as used in the USMMA SAGR surveys as compared to the definition used in the SAGR surveys for the other four federal academies. When Jaenichen insisted at homecoming that I was wrong, I pointed out in a follow up post that I had relied upon the Academy’s own definition as provided in the Academy’s report interpreting the SAGR survey; but I also pointed out that the Academy had used contradictory definitions within the report. Words do matter, and I invited Jaenichen to correct the record by releasing the report as received by the Academy from  the Defense Manpower Data Center (“DMDC”). (The DMDC report for the other four federal academies is released without being rewritten by the academies before being published. There is no explanation as to why the Academy hasn’t, and apparently won’t, release the report it received from DMDC.)

I’m still waiting for Jaenichen to back up the statement he made at homecoming by releasing the report. If that statement was correct, then why won’t he release it?  The only viable explanation that I can come up with for not releasing the unedited report is that it must have been particularly damning of the administration — so damning that he’d prefer to not correct the record rather than correct the record and have the rest of the report be disclosed.

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