- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) - The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy has a culture of fear marked by a sense of victimhood and “us vs. them” mindset, according to a study commissioned by the federal agency that operates the New York military academy following concerns about sexual assault and harassment.

A report issued Friday by a firm hired by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which runs the military academy, found that while the academy has taken action to address concerns, “the underlying climate contributing to these issues remains.”

Logistics Management Institute spent 60 days last fall examining the culture of the suburban New York academy.

The study found that fear “plays a strong role in shaping attitudes and behaviors at the academy,” including fear for the future of the academy and the maritime industry in general; fear of being “blacklisted” by industry or jeopardizing chances of graduation; and fear of retaliation, ostracism, and bullying.

The review was ordered after the DOT halted a program last summer that places cadets on one-year internships working on commercial vessels amid concerns about sex abuse and harassment. The Sea Year program is considered one of the unique educational training aspects at the 900-member academy located on Long Island Sound.

The LMI study calls for a comprehensive plan to address sexual assault and harassment, including encouraging reporting of alleged incidents both on campus and at sea, and developing a program to ensure that shipping companies have adequate policies to protect cadets during Sea Year.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who leaves office this month, said after Friday’s report was released that Sea Year training would resume once the academy devises a protocol for ensuring the safety of cadets working on commercial vessels.

“I fully recognize that this challenge is not an easy one to meet, and improving the climate will likely result in more reporting and more enforcement action in the near term,” Foxx said in a letter to academy Superintendent James Helis. “While success may initially look like failure, the longer term objective will be an academy where young men and women can thrive together without fear of such misconduct.”

A separate alumni study released last month disputed concerns about cadet abuse.

“Our findings strongly rebut the administration’s assertion that Sea Year is an unsafe and licentious environment where assaults are frequent and reporting is non-existent,” said an interim report issued by the alumni task force.

Kings Point is one of five military service academies in the United States, and the only one under the direction of the Department of Transportation. Graduates receive bachelor’s degrees in marine engineering or marine transportation and a merchant marine officer’s license, putting them in high demand by the industry.

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Follow Eltman on Twitter at @feltman41.

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