By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The U.S. Naval Academy's new superintendent announced yesterday stricter rules for midshipmen, declaring that students at the Annapolis military academy need to spend more time preparing for war and less time on distracting extracurricular activities.
Students, who are returning to campus for Monday's start of the school year, will have reduced off-campus liberty hours, more mandatory study hours and more limited extracurricular activities, Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler told reporters.
"This is not just a college scholarship program," Fowler said during the interview in the superintendent's conference room. "My job is to make sure we minimize distraction."
The new policies follow several incidents of sexual misconduct and excessive drinking, including high-profile sex-assault cases involving football players and reports of a raucous spring break cruise in the Caribbean.
Fowler cast the changes as having more to do with preparing future Navy and Marine officers for wartime duty than with cracking down on misbehavior.
"We are a nation at war," he said. "If any campus should understand being a nation at war, it's the United States Naval Academy."
Fowler's comments were echoed by his senior staff. "We do not have the luxury of letting our midshipmen learn about life in the Fleet and the Marine Corps once they get there," Capt. Margaret Klein, the commandant of midshipmen, said in a statement released by the academy. "They need to be ready to lead Sailors and Marines the day they graduate from this institution."
Fowler also noted that the academy staff must focus on preparing midshipmen "morally, mentally and physically" to be officers and that he wanted to instill "a sense of urgency" to the job. "I do not like wasting a single minute," he said.
Fowler assumed command from the retiring Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt on June 8. Rempt faced criticism from some alumni for his focus on sexual misconduct cases at the academy, in particular his decision to bring charges against former Navy quarterback Lamar S. Owens, who was cleared of raping a female midshipman but convicted of misconduct for having sex in a dorm.
Fowler, 50, a 1978 graduate of the academy, has held a variety of submarine commands and also served as chief of Navy recruiting. "I come from the fleet," he said. "That was probably intentional."
Returning midshipmen and plebes were told of the new policies at sessions this week with Fowler and other commanders.
Fowler said that when speaking to the midshipmen, he noted that the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier group recently returned from a 230-day deployment that included only 15 days of leave. "Our midshipmen need to understand that's what our sailors are going through, and that's who they're going to lead," he said.
Klein's statement lists a series of operational changes "in support of the Superintendent's vision for the Naval Academy":
· There will be no liberty, or free time off campus, for any midshipman on weeknights, although seniors might eventually be entitled to earn limited weeknight liberty for outstanding performance.
· All midshipmen will have mandatory study periods Sunday through Thursday nights, as well as Friday nights for first- and second-year midshipmen.
· All meals from Sunday dinner through Friday lunch are mandatory.
· Seniors will wear khaki uniforms to highlight their distinction as leaders and "to bring them in line with the fleet they will enter in 9 months."
Fowler said a review conducted since he took command had found the facility, faculty and staff at the academy to be "in great shape" and the student body to be first-rate.
"There is no crisis at the academy," Fowler said.