U.S. Merchant Marine Academy to face review of harassment, bullying

The United States Merchant Marine Academy will be the subject of an independent review after the U.S. Department of Transportation said it wanted to address a history of sexual harassment and bullying.
In a statement posted on the academy’s website, the department  said it would  create a team of independent experts to review both campus culture and the institution’s Sea Year, when midshipmen spend an academic year aboard a merchant marine vessel.
“Over the next few months, we will have independent outside experts experienced in assessing institutional and organizational culture examine all such aspects within the USMMA, both on campus and at sea, in an attempt to identify root causes and their impacts to the academy culture and offer possible short-term and long-term corrective actions to address the issues,” the statement said.
In July, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education issued a warning to the academy about its accreditation status, citing the school’s failure to meet five of the agency’s 14 standards.
The academy’s Sea Year was scrutinized by the accrediting agency.
The Middle States report said the marine academy needs to take steps “to build a climate of mutual trust and respect on campus and during the Sea Year.”
 Academy officials suspended the program on June 15 to hold student training on acceptable conduct in regard to bullying and sexual harassment.
The Department of Transportation’s statement said that while it, the department’s Maritime Administration  and the  academy “have made consistent efforts to address these issues over the last few years,” they have “not solved the problem with inappropriate behavior during Sea Year, and behavior issues that are affecting the campus culture.”
“In ongoing conversations between the Maritime Administration, faculty and staff and the midshipmen, some returning from their Sea Year experience have revealed episodes of improper behavior including bullying, coercion, harassment and retaliation,” a USMMA spokesman said in June. “While academy leadership has focused on prevention and response training and creating a leadership development program to address campus climate issues, there is still a need to ensure the safety and mutual respect for all midshipmen on vessels during Sea Year.”
Thirty-three students were expected to set sail for Sea Year before the program’s suspension in June.
“We are taking this action to improve the midshipman training and experience, and are making every effort to ensure an on-time graduation for any affected students,” the spokesman said.
Last month, the program was partly reinstated to allow midshipmen to serve Sea Year on federal ships, but not on commercial vessels.
The statement said the review would delay “the resumption of Sea Year on commercial vessels for a number of months,” but the Department of Transportation would “continue to assign midshipmen to federal vessels to get their required sea days.”
Efforts to reach academy officials for comment were unavailing.

By Joe Nikic

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