Marine academy alumni aim to help accreditation efforts

Joe Nikic
The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy has been the subject of a federal investigation into a sexual assault that allegedly occurred on a soccer team bus. (Photo from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy website)
The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy has been the subject of a federal investigation into a sexual assault that allegedly occurred on a soccer team bus. (Photo from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy website)

Graduates from the United States Merchant Marine Academy announced Thursday their plans to assist the institution in maintaining its accreditation after an independent accrediting agency placed its status in jeopardy.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation, or AAF, announced that it created an advisory committee in an effort to support issues at the academy identified by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

“If we don’t fix the accreditation, then nothing else matters,” said James Tobin, president of the AAF. “This is an existential threat to the institution and therefore a long-term threat to our national security.”

In a report dated June 24, the Middle States Commission 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 report highlighted the academy’s noncompliance with its standards on financial planning, leadership, student services and resource allocation.

The academy remains accredited while on warning, which is the least severe penalty used by the accrediting agency.

Of the 10 schools that are accredited by the Middle States Commission, the marine academy is the only one to fail to meet more than two of the commission’s standards, according to the AAF.

James Fitzpatrick, a marine transportation professor and department chair at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, will chair the advisory committee.

“We are hopeful that applying our academic and managerial expertise to the tasks at hand will assist the Maritime Administration and the academy in identifying the most effective means of addressing the MSCHE committee’s concerns,” said Fitzpatrick, who graduated from the marine academy in 1977. “We also stand ready to advise on how best to implement the changes that will be required to remove the academy’s warning status.”

The AAF’s advisory committee will develop a “comprehensive overview” of the commission’s expectations and requirements for accreditation, according to an AAF press release.

The committee will also outline practices implemented by other Middle States Commission-accredited federal service academies and using case studies on schools that were previously placed on warning to identify steps those schools took to ensure accreditation.

Other members on the advisory committee include Bob Comegys, a 1977 marine academy graduate and chairman of the Education Committee of the American Institute of Maritime Underwriters, and Connie Dato English, a 1986 marine academy graduate and member of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-Virginia) Service Academy Review Board.

Victoria Millar Ferguson, a 2005 marine academy graduate and a former assistant professor, assistant women’s lacrosse coach and sexual assault prevention and response program victim advocate at the academy, will also serve on the advisory committee along with David Steinberg, a former president at Long Island University who served on the Board of Trustees of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.

According to the Middle States report, USMMA officials are expected to submit a monitoring report by March 1 to the accrediting agency, stating the actions the school has taken to address its problems.

The report also states that the Middle States Commission will send a small team to the academy after it submits its monitoring report to ensure it is taking the right steps to address the problems.

The commission can take up to two years to reverse its “warning” decision.

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