Last June, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education warned the United States Merchant Marine Academy that it faced the loss of its accreditation if it did not address issues related to sexual assault and institutional governance. On June 23, the Commission found that USMMA has made major strides towards compliance with accreditation requirements, achieving four out of the five standards that were previously unmet.
In a determination letter, MSCHE said that USMMA is now in compliance with standards on institutional resources, leadership and governance, administration and student support services. Perhaps most importantly, the notice lifts MSCHE's formal concerns about sexual assault and sexual harassment at USMMA, including the commission's concerns about incidents during at-sea training. USMMA and its parent agency, the Maritime Administration (MARAD), suspended the academy's Sea Year training program over these issues; it was fully reinstated in January after the participating vessel operators instituted new policies.
MSCHE warned that the academy must still provide additional evidence that it is in compliance with requirements related to planning and resources. The academy remains accredited while on warning, and it will have to submit a satisfactory report by September documenting compliance with standards on resource allocation and institutional assessment. Once the academy clears this final hurdle, it will have until 2024-25 before the next MSCHE review. USMMA remains accredited while on warning.
In a statement, MARAD said that the MSCHE evaluation team commended Superintendent James Helis and his team for their dedication and “exemplary leadership” in working to resolve the compliance issues.
USMMA bans soccer players from graduation
Earlier this month, Rear Adm. Helis suspended seven members of the USMMA soccer team and deferred their graduation until after the outcome of a federal inquiry into alleged sexual misconduct. The students deny the charges and contend that they were not given a hearing; all seven have sued the school for relief. As USMMA is a division of the Department of Transportation, not the Department of Defense, the investigation will be overseen by DOT’s Office of the Inspector General. The four other service academies are covered by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The allegations relate to an incident involving a freshman member of the team last September, and while the details have not been made public, a member of USMMA’s congressional Board of Visitors said that it was “sexual in nature.” The academy found that the incident violated the school's honor code, thereby making the seven seniors ineligible for graduation. In addition, Rear Adm. Helis has suspended the activities of the soccer team.