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Set new course at Kings Point

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Plebe Candidates during the

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Plebe Candidates during the start of their Acceptance Day Ceremony and Parade at the academy in King Point Saturday Aug. 8, 2015. This event marks the official transition of the class of 2019 from their status as "plebes," and formal acceptance into the Regiment of the Midshipman and U.S. Navy Reserve. Newsday/ J. Conrad Williams Jr. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s midshipmen and faculty are subject to a culture of fear, where retaliation and blaming of victims are common, where sexual harassment and sexual assault occurs at a higher frequency than at other, similar schools, and where alcohol consumption is a significant factor. Add to that a lack of leadership, communication and accountability.

Those findings by outside consultants are alarming and require immediate action at Kings Point. The service academy should be a shining jewel; its graduates handle the delivery of military supplies and commercial trade on ships around the world. But the tarnish runs deep. Transforming the college will require a massive overhaul of culture and leadership, and an acceptance by all involved that the problem is extensive.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has provided a road map for change that everyone should follow. It includes filling key vacancies, establishing new management teams to address prevention, victim advocacy and school responses; instituting better training and policies against harassment, bullying and retaliation; and taking steps to improve communication and change the culture.

Then there’s Sea Year. A directive by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will allow students to again spend a year on commercial ships, if changes occur. That means each shipping company should be credentialed and approved, mentors should be placed on ships to advise students, and communication and oversight have to improve.

Studying the problem and proposing solutions are the easy part. Reforming a culture, protecting students and saving the academy are more difficult. For the school to restore its luster, everyone has to be on board to steer the ship to smoother waters. — The editorial board