The new superintendent of the Naval Academy said Thursday that the institution is a national leader in confronting sexual assault and sexual harassment among students, and should be helping other schools tackle what he described as a widespread problem.
The Naval Academy has drawn national attention for the alleged assault of a female midshipman at a party in Annapolis and the subsequent investigation of three members of the Navy football team. The prosecution came amid a growing public focus on sexual assaults both in the military and on college campuses.
Vice Adm. Walter E. "Ted" Carter Jr., speaking to reporters for the first time since assuming command of the elite training ground for future Navy and Marine Corps officers last month, said the academy would take a leadership role in confronting campus crime.
"We are a long way ahead of the average college or university campus in the country right now, and we should be helping them with what we've already learned and where we're going," he said. "We should be leading this effort. And that's what I intend to do."
The "ground floor" of confronting sexual assault, sexual harassment and other challenges, Carter said, is "character development" — "arguably the hardest thing to work on here," he said, but also central to the academy's mission.
A flight officer who served in the Iraq War, the Gulf War and in Kosovo, Carter takes over an institution currently ranked 12th among national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report, and first in that category among public colleges.
A 1981 graduate of the academy, he opened the hourlong session describing his plans to ensure "we're attracting and accepting the best of America," with a diverse student body that represents all 50 states and also draws from the enlisted ranks of the Navy and Marine Corps.
He said the class that just completed Plebe Summer includes the largest group of women at 300, or a quarter of the members. They have the highest average SAT score, at 1,340 on the math and verbal sections combined. Ninety percent earned a varsity letter in high school.
"I'm very proud of what Vice Adm. [Michael H.] Miller has turned over to me," he said. "The academy is on an upward trajectory right now, and I hope to continue that vector with what we're doing."
He said he would work to develop the academy's cybersecurity offerings, to bolster instruction in leadership and ethics, and to push more midshipmen to take semesters abroad.
The academy has developed core courses in cybersecurity and a new major in the field. A major focus will be securing funding for the planned Center for Cyber Security Studies.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and serves on the Naval Academy's Board of Visitors, has sought $120 million for the project. The center has other powerful supporters, but in Washington's current climate of fiscal austerity, funding is by no means assured.
Military leaders consider cyberspace an operational domain, alongside land, sea, air and space. Carter sees it linking all of them.
"I believe that in the next five to 10 years, cyber will be not just something that we talk about as a domain," he said. "It will literally be the air that all of our systems and our other domains live in and around."
Carter said the academy would offer a new major in nuclear engineering beginning in 2018, and a specialty in rotary wing studies — helicopters — within the existing aerospace engineering major.
As director of the 21st Century Sailor office, Carter studied resilience and suicides across the military, and sexual assault and harassment. As president of the Naval War College, he established the Naval Leadership and Ethics Center in Newport, R.I.
At the Naval Academy, he said, he will review and sharpen training in leadership and ethics.
Carter wore a leather flight jacket, a gold academy ring and another to signify that he had completed the Boston Marathon twice.
Carter grew up in the small town of Burrillville, R.I., and was the first graduate from his high school to attend the academy. He said he chose it over Brown University, an Ivy League school in Providence.
It was while he was at Annapolis that he met his wife, Lynda, who grew up in Catonsville and was attending the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. They married in 1982 and have two grown children.
Carter completed Navy Fighter Weapons School — the training program in San Diego known popularly as Top Gun — in 1985, a year before the Tom Cruise movie made it famous. He commanded the VF-14 "Tophatters" strike fighter squadron, the fast combat support ship USS Camden, the Nimitz class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson and the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group.
Carter has earned the Defense Superior Service Medal twice, the Legion of Merit three times, the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat "V" and the Bronze Star, among other decorations.
The New England native is a fan of the Boston Red Sox, but said he is following the Orioles this year. He's scheduled to throw out the first pitch Monday at Camden Yards.