Naval Academy faces questions

The Baltimore Sun

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski grilled Naval Academy officials about food services and about creating a standardized system of documenting and reporting sexual misconduct at a meeting yesterday on the Annapolis campus.

Mikulski asked whether the main dining hall on campus employs enough cooks - there are 95 - and why midshipmen have a $6.95 daily allotment for meals while sailors have a $9 allotment.

"Why is there a discrepancy?" the Maryland Democrat asked at the quarterly meeting of the Board of Visitors, an oversight panel on which she serves along with other lawmakers, civilians and retired military officials. "That's a lot of money. ... What we don't want is a shortfall in either nutrition or in the budget."

Campus food has been under scrutiny since midshipmen and their families complained last year that the superintendent's new requirement that everyone eat on campus had led to a shortage of food and a drop in quality.

Capt. Margaret Klein, the academy commandant - a position similar to that of dean of students - said the academy is investigating the staffing issue as well as the discrepancy in funding for food. She also noted that the kitchen where the food is prepared, which is several decades old, is going to be replaced, a process that will take 12 to 18 months.

Midshipmen have a number of ways of offering feedback on meals, from a review board to e-mails and online surveys, said Charles Breaux, a student liaison to the food service organization. In general, students think the quality of the food is improving, he told the board, and tend to describe it as "adequate to good."

Mikulski also expressed concern about a recent Government Accountability Office report, which said the nation's military academies have made progress in addressing allegations of sexual misconduct, but that the Defense Department has not clearly articulated a reporting standard, such as requiring uniform terminology or the same methodology of reporting incidents.

"What is so hard about getting a definition?" Mikulski asked. "This is not a treaty negotiation, though it seems like it."

The Department of Defense is attempting to standardize reporting standards and definitions, said Cmdr. Ricks Polk, the academy's sexual assault response coordinator. He and a midshipman outlined the expanding sexual harassment and assault prevention education program on campus, which includes training and speakers.

Also at the meeting, Joe Rubino, the director of diversity at the academy, discussed his plans for recruiting and retaining a student body that's diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and religion. Rubino, who was appointed in January, is overseeing the academy's new diversity office, which has been fully operational, with four full-time staff members, for the past couple of weeks.

The academy's renewed commitment to diversity can be traced directly to Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, who became the superintendent last summer and has a history of valuing diversity.rona.marech@baltsun.com

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